Those of us who have been black for a while will find this news as shocking as a new report proving that the sky is still blue, but a recent study has suggested that workplace discrimination may actually increase in times of economic downturn. Those in hiring positions are less inclined to select minority applications for jobs. Coupled with high tensions in the workplace, groups already at a social disadvantaged are finding things that much harder. And when it is time to shed jobs, guess who gets first dibs?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since the recession began, black unemployment has risen 4.5 percent, to 13.4 percent. Latino unemployment has risen 4.7 percent, to 10.9 percent. By contrast, white unemployment has only risen 2.9 points, to 7.3 percent. Much of the disparity is because large numbers of minority workers work construction jobs, or other blue-collar or service-industry jobs that have been eliminated as a result of the economic decline.
But many blacks working in corporate America, say they, too, are seeing their jobs disappear – at a much faster pace than their white counterparts. Such is this case for this reader, who on the condition of anonymity, spoke about his recent layoff from his Wall Street job, and how he and his wife deal with certain prejudice as they struggle to maintain social mobility.
“At the end of February, I was let go from my Wall Street job of 2 1/2 years where I worked as a systems analyst. This was due to the relocation of about 30 jobs from our particular technology group to Mexico; ultimately, all but 6 of our jobs were migrated to Mexico. My company enjoyed a comfortable level of diversity in our workplace, but only 2 non-white technology workers from our group ended up keeping jobs. Of the nearly 25 technology workers laid off from our group, only 3 white employees and a single Asian co-worker were let go. The rest were all African-American and Latino.
I am thankful because I do not have a large sum of personal debt. Moreover, my wife and I are able to keep our costs of living low, and so the income from my unemployment insurance, combined with the income my wife brings home, is enough to pay for our needs and some of our wants.
But the truth is that we are struggling somewhat to get by, and the small amount of savings which my wife and I worked so hard to build (and I do mean little), is beginning to be depleted. In addition, I no longer have health insurance, nor can I afford to provide any for myself, and I simply make too much to afford government health insurance.
My wife's job also does not seem to be secure long term. She currently works in accounting, a field in which she doesn't have a degree, for a hotel losing millions of dollars every quarter. Despite having a background in banking (she worked through college as a teller), she accepted the position at the hotel after being promised that she would be cross-trained in Human Resources.
A year later, despite her having fulfilled the requirements of the job and having a perfect record for many months, they still refuse to provide that cross training, citing confidentiality concerns previously not factored. In an effort to cut costs, the hotel laid off many workers and demoted others. One of these demoted workers is a white personal assistant to one of the hotel's executives. Instead of laying her off, the hotel management moved her to my wife's accounting department and now they are attempting to replace my wife with her though my wife has an excellent work record and finance experience. The personal assistant has no finance experience whatsoever.
In addition, my wife's work environment is somewhat abusive — her boss curses and screams at his employees, sometimes hitting certain of them (not my wife, though). But with my job loss, my wife is afraid to simply leave her job, though I have encouraged her to do so. I must admit that I do not want her to be without health insurance, but I do not want her to be exposed any further to these threats to her mental, physical and emotional health. The work environment of my wife and her co-workers is so inimical to their health that many of them are on mental health medications and one of my wife's supervisors is checked into a sleep clinic for insomnia.
I consider how many blessings we have, including our educations and favorable debt levels, but it is amazing the level of adversity we face from corporate America. My wife and I - we have worked so hard to get out of the ghetto, but it feels like corporate America conspires to put us back there, back into the poverty our families both faced in the eighties and early nineties. It is not as if we have already left the ghetto; we still live in the Bronx, in a poor neighborhood. We have both worked so hard to be responsible and self sufficient human beings, not dependent on society, both of us struggling to finish college and provide value in the workplace.
We want to have children, but we are nervous to bring children into a situation where they will not experience the care or education that they deserve.
I have confidence that our family will see brighter times, and that God will continue to shine down upon us. But I am concerned about what lies ahead of us as a couple, us as a nation, and especially for those of us who are already experiencing the crushing weight of poverty. My wife and I have had real advantages in life, yet look at the difficulties we face through this economy and in this country.”
Do you have a recession story? Continue to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.