High Unemployment Among Blacks a Crisis, Not a Data Point
Jul 08, 2011
By Jenice R. Robinson
Too many Americans who want jobs can't find them. That's what unemployment data have been telling us for more than two years, and today's data not surprisingly reveals the same tale yet again.
The national unemployment rate ticked up in June and remains high at 9.2 percent. People of color and those with the least education are most likely to be among the 14.1 million people looking for a job who can't find one.
For blacks, the unemployment rate is 16.2 percent, more than 43 percent higher than the national average and double the 8.1 percent rate for whites. Double digit unemployment, or one in six people, is a jobs crisis and a social crisis that deserves policymakers' attention and response.
The disparity among blacks and whites has long persisted, but it's all the more alarming with unemployment already high for the general population. Salon.com published an article earlier this week that explores the gaping disparity in black/white unemployment averages. Author Andy Kroll notes that the huge gap is not "an artifact of the present moment. It's a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by."
Indeed, it is remarkable that unemployment for blacks in incredibly high but the number is just another data point in news stories, if it's mentioned at all.
A recent Department of Labor special report on the labor force noted that unemployment for whites peaked in October 2009 but continued to rise for African Americans until March 2010, reaching 16.5 percent. The current unemployment rate for blacks is down only 0.3 percent from its peak. This means that blacks continued to lose jobs and apply for unemployment benefits in greater numbers, even as the jobs market improved for their white counterparts. Worse, the report found that nearly half of all unemployed blacks were among the long-term unemployed (27 weeks or more), compared to 41.9 percent of unemployed whites.
In their commentary, A Crisis Ignored, CLASP senior policy analysts Kisha Bird and Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt discuss the long-term implications of high unemployment and long-term unemployment. They wrote:
"Prolonged periods of unemployment negatively affect future wages and perpetuate the cycle of poverty for children living in such households. Studies have shown that impoverished black boys are less likely to work as young adults. This means children in the disproportionately high number of black households where a parent is unemployed and financially struggling are at a disadvantage. Addressing high unemployment today will have immediate and long-term benefits."
We should not be content to allow high unemployment among blacks to be an intractable data point. Moving forward, though, requires more public awareness and political will to address this national challenge. Unfortunately, we collectively have become desensitized to news about high unemployment among any population. It's been a way of life for the last two years, and headlines about unemployment fade after a day. And while many lawmakers have issued statements about the jobs numbers, they are largely focused on deficit reduction - not the jobs crisis.
It's more expedient to allow the high unemployment rate to be a mere moment in the 24-hour news cycle than to talk about its long-term implications for families and communities. And it's certainly easier to ignore than to discuss some of the deep-seated problems noted in Kroll's article or Kisha Bird and Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt's piece.
But unlike the daily news cycle, the consequences of high unemployment won't change. The jobs crisis is a social crisis and an economic crisis that it would behoove policymakers to address in a real way.