Although many Americans have been hit hard by the
continuing - and alarming - growth of unemployment, none have come close to
being hit as devastatingly hard as the country's African-American workers.
The unemployment rate among African-Americans is above 15
percent, more than twice the rate for white workers and almost 7 percent higher
than the rate for African-Americans a year ago. The jobless include more than
one-third of the African-Americans aged 16 to 19 who want and need jobs.
The figures come from a new report by the Center for
American Progress, a think tank headed by John Podesta, the Georgetown
University law professor who served as President Clinton's chief of staff.
As bad as the situation is, the report says it "will
likely only increase as the economic crisis deepens."
That's partly because so many African-Americans work in
manufacturing and construction, which have been hurting the most of any
industries during the current economic turmoil. The continuing troubles in the auto industry alone could
lead to hundreds of thousands or more black auto workers being laid off -- an
especially troubling prospect, since jobs in the auto industry are the best
paying jobs available to large numbers of African-Americans.
The report says that, wherever they worked, laid-off
African-Americans are less likely than
jobless white workers to get Unemployment Insurance benefits, and many
who get them are still looking for work when their benefit payout periods
expire. Perhaps as many
one-fourth of all jobless African-Americans run out of benefits -- or have none
to begin with because they live in states that deny benefits to many part-time
and low-wage workers.
Finding a job in today's troubled economy obviously is
not easy for anyone, but it's especially difficult for African-Americans. Many still face outright
As the report notes, "Employers are generally more
averse to hiring black males than those from any other racial and gender group,
especially in jobs that require social or verbal skills, and in service
And though employers are generally reluctant to hire
ex-convicts, the report notes that African-Americans with no criminal record at
all fare no better when seeking jobs than do white applicants who've recently
been released from prison.
To make it worse, fewer and fewer African-Americans have
had the weapon of unionization to fight such discrimination. Although the
percentage of black workers in unions is currently higher than that for workers
generally - about 16 percent to about 12 percent - it's been declining
African-Americans who do belong to unions have had a
better chance of holding their jobs than non-union workers, who lack the
unified strength to fight layoffs. They've also had the higher compensation
that comes with unionization. But, as the auto workers' recent experience
shows, unions can go only so far when faced with severe economic problems such
as now beset the country.
Jobless black auto workers and other unemployed
African-Americans will be competing
for jobs with more
white ex-prisoners, as well as more black ex-offenders because, as the report
says, "state governments are releasing thousands of prisoners to save
taxpayer dollars." That's in
addition to the 700,000 prisoners who already are being released annually.
The report recommends that communities make special
efforts to find "full-time consistent employment" for ex-prisoners
and "stress racial equity and equal opportunity in policies to promote
economic recovery and to create jobs."
Specific recommendations call for "vigorous
enforcement " of anti-discrimination laws, increased support for
affirmative action, tax breaks for employers who "promote racial
diversity," removing "restrictive" unemployment benefit
regulations, extending the benefits of jobless workers while they're training
for open jobs, and supporting the pending Employee Free Choice Act that would
make it easier for workers to unionize--
because "strong unions promote income equity and raise wages for
Sensible, enlightened, progressive, necessary, fair. The proposals are all that, and
more. Yet the odds, of course, are
against their enactment. But maybe we'll get lucky.
2009 Dick Meister