Jobs Vanish for African Americans

A congressional report reveals the dire details, but does one sector have a strategy that will help turn the tide?

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Before the recession, 40 percent of black men held blue-collar jobs, which include manufacturing, transportation, construction and moving materials. Since then, one-fifth of those black workers were laid off. The crucial issue, says Sum, is that as the economy reconfigures itself, 6 in 10 unemployed black men report that their former permanent, or less-than-full-time jobs are gone forever. The average layoff period for these men was also 33 weeks, making it harder to reenter the labor market.

The auto industry possesses many well-paying jobs for skilled and unskilled blue-collar workers beyond those on the Big Three's auto assembly lines. But the recession has taken its toll. Take the case of the National Association of Black Automotive Suppliers (NABAS), which represents businesses that provide goods and services, mostly as subcontractors, to the auto makers.

The strength of NABAS is apparent. Four of its members were in the top 10 of the 2009 Black Enterprise 100 Industrial/Service list of companies, and nine were part of the overall ranking. Despite that, NABAS's ranks have been decimated over the past decade.

In 2000, NABAS comprised 48 companies, with 17,000 employees, and total annual sales of $3.2 billion. This year, the group has 23 companies, annual sales of $2.5 billion and 7,000 employees.

The company's response to harsh times is diversification. In an e-mail to The Root, Roderick Rickman, NABAS advocacy chairman, said that the recession, the plunge in auto sales and inadequate access to credit threaten the auto suppliers' existence. Member companies must therefore retool their workforce and technology to win contracts in aerospace/defense, health care, alternative energy, education and utilities.

If that strategy works out, NABAS members will need more employees.

Frank McCoy is a regular contributor to The Root. He covers business and technology.

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