A Report Worth Noting -- Sadly

Jan 20, 2012

By Kisha Bird

Research has shown that black middle class gains and narrowing of the black/white income gap have been reversed by the recession. Part of the reason is due to blacks being more harshly affected by the economic downturn than other groups.

While the economy is slowly recovering, blacks aren't sharing the benefit of recovery. It's particularly pronounced when you take a look at unemployment numbers.

On Tuesday, the UC Berkeley Labor Center released Annual Report: Black Employment and Unemployment in 2011, whose findings should make us all take pause. The unemployment rate for black workers today is higher than it was at the end of the economic recession in June 2009. By contrast, unemployment dropped by 1.2 percentage points for white workers.

The economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011, and unemployment rates for white and Latino workers fell from January 2011 to December 2011 (for whites from 8.1 percent to 7.5 percent and from 12 percent to 11 percent for Latinos), according to the report. But for blacks, it remained virtually unchanged, increasing 0.1 percentage points to 15.8 percent, more than double the rate for white workers.

In addition, the report found that since the recession ended in 2009, black female unemployment rates have risen while black male unemployment rates have fallen slightly, though it should be noted that at 17.1 percent, black men have a higher unemployment rate than any other group. The report concludes that "while the jobs picture in the national economy began to improve slightly during 2011, the black community experienced little of this growth."

It is painfully clear that while headlines are highlighting jobs gained and declining unemployment numbers, the black community is lagging far behind. The reasons are myriad and complex and could be attributable to declining public sector jobs in which blacks have found more employment opportunities, to blacks overall having fewer opportunities to access and complete postsecondary education, to the "last hired, first fired," syndrome.

It's in the best interest of communities and the nation to address this gross disparity head on. These findings yield many implications for federal workforce policy.

  • Job creation policies must be the focus of Congress and the Obama administration.  Americans are still hurting, 13 million are still unemployed and black Americans especially have been hard hit by the recession and have no signs of entering a recovery.  The Pathways Back to Work Act presents an opportunity for Congress to provide some relief to low-income youth and adults through subsidized jobs and summer- and year -round employment. 
  • Congress should reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to address the training, skills and workforce needs of youth and adults, including those with barriers to employment and with limited education and skills. WIA provides a delivery infrastructure in state and local communities that can help to ensure training and jobs reach those in most need of work.
  • Funding for federal workforce programs must be maintained and investments are needed now more than ever. As the economy rebounds and employers begin to hire workers, it is important to acknowledge the important role workforce services play in the nation's ongoing economic recovery - helping many unemployed workers, low-income adults and disadvantaged youth prepare for work, build skills and find jobs.

Policy development and implementation in Washington, the states, and communities around the country must establish equitable employment strategies to improve access to employment for black workers. CLASP has identified successful approaches including community benefit agreements, first-source hiring agreements, customized training and try-out employment. These approaches, implemented by progressive workforce boards and community-based organizations, link economic development activities with employment opportunities for low-income individuals.

Learn more about CLASP workforce development and youth policy work>>>

 

 

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