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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As the Great Recession’s scythe slices through industries, states, cities and neighborhoods, African Americans have received the most devastating wound.

Blacks, and particularly African-American males, have suffered disproportionate rates of unemployment and underemployment historically, for reasons that include weaker educational attainment, lack of connections, less mobility, a high percentage of workers in blue-collar jobs and discrimination. Thus many have marginal links to the labor force, and after negative experiences when trying to finding work, others have stopped looking.

That African Americans have it worse is not new news, but a recent Congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) report provides much-needed illumination on just how badly blacks have fared in the economic downturn. It details the previously unaddressed impact of long-term unemployment among black men and its corrosive effect on the black community.

The situation for African Americans is dire. In the first two months of 2010, the black male jobless rate was 19 percent, and just over 13 percent for black women. Before this recession, the overall black unemployment rate was 9 percent.

The future looks bleak. Roughly 6.1 million workers of all backgrounds have sought work for at least 27 weeks, the sign of long-term unemployment. But while blacks comprise just 11.5 percent of the labor force, they account for more than 20 percent of the long-term unemployed, and 22 percent of workers unemployed for more than a year.

Teens Need Jobs, Too

The job outlook for black youth between 16 and 24 is also clouded. The youngest and least educated teens fare badly when they compete with Generation Xers, Millennials, Baby Boomers, and retirees, of every background. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University (CLMS) reports that in late 2009, only 14 percent of black male teens, and 15.5 percent of black female teens had jobs. By contrast, 28 percent and about 31 percent of white male and female teens, respectively, were employed.

Margaret C. Simms, a fellow at the Urban Institute says that discrepancy bears examination. And some economists wonder if the black teens’ inability to find meaningful work now will scar their lifetime employment history.