"Is Black Unemployment a Human Rights Issue?"

The United Nations is looking into the epidemic.

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Is black unemployment a human rights violation? The United Nations is looking into it.

The United Nations may consider investigating whether the persistently high unemployment rate among African-Americans is a violation of human rights. A group of employment advocates, including the National Employment Law Project and the New York Urban Justice Center, contend that the over-representation of African-Americans among those who are unemployed and living in poverty is a human rights violation. Indeed, African-American unemployment is currently at 16.5 percent, nearly twice the national average of 9.7 percent. For African-American males age 20 and over, the unemployment rate is 19 percent, nearly twice the national average. For African-American women, the rate is twice that of their white counterparts, and among African-American teenagers, the unemployment rate looms at 41 percent.

The visible successes of a relative few African-Americans can mask the widespread structural inequality facing many of our communities. Research by Algernon Austin at the Economic Policy Institute has demonstrated the consistently high rates of under- and unemployment among African-Americans as evidence of a "permanent recession." This is true, he argues, when the economy is strong. So, when the rest of the nation is experiencing a recession, what are African-Americans experiencing? That's right, a depression.

If the recession/depression could be explained by skill differentials or training deficiencies, then perhaps raising it as a human rights issue would be unwarranted. Maybe, some argue, it's really about our failed ability to adequately prepare these men and women for participation in the labor force. That may be true for some, particularly those who are rebuilding an employable skill set after a lengthy absence from the workforce; but it certainly doesn't explain the fact that African-American unemployment rates, particularly for men, are consistently double--and in cities like Milwaukee and Detroit, over five times--the national unemployment rate, even without factoring in those who are not working because they are "discouraged" or incarcerated.

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