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Sunday, February 25, 2024

UNEMPLOYMENT HITS HARDER AMONG MINORITIES

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“font-size: small”>The ax fell

without sound or shadow: Tatiana Gallego was suddenly called into

human resources and laid off from her job as an admissions

counselor for a fashion college.

“font-size: small”>“The way

people tried to explain it to me was, I was the last one hired so I

was the first one out,” said Gallego, 25, who had worked there for

17 months.

“font-size: small”>Last hired,

first fired: This generations-old cliché rings bitterly true for

millions of Latinos and Blacks who are losing jobs at a faster rate

than the general population during this punishing

recession.

“font-size: small”>Much of the

disparity is due to a concentration of Latinos and Blacks in

construction, blue-collar or service-industry jobs that have been

decimated by the economic meltdown. And Black unemployment has been

about double the rate for whites since the government began

tracking those categories in the early 1970s.

“font-size: small”>But this

recession is cutting a swath through the professional classes as

well, which can be devastating to people who recently arrived

there.

“font-size: small”>Since the

recession began in December 2007, Latino unemployment has risen 4.7

percentage points, to 10.9 percent, according to the Bureau of

Labor Statistics. Black unemployment has risen 4.5 points, to 13.4

percent. White unemployment has risen 2.9 points, to 7.3

percent.

“font-size: small”>Gallego,

whose parents were born in Colombia, graduated from the University

of Rhode Island. Her mother is self-employed, and her stepfather

works in construction.

“font-size: small”>She was

stunned when she was told to pack up and leave by the end of the

day because enrollment was down at her New York City school. She

said she had recently received a positive performance review, and

her bosses were planning to send her to a

conference.

“font-size: small”>“Maybe I just

don’t know that much about the business world, because I felt like

I did more, I went above and beyond more than other people in my

office did,” she said.

“font-size: small”>William

Darity, a professor of economics and African-American studies at

Duke University, said “Blacks and Latinos are relative latecomers

to the professional world … so they are necessarily the most

vulnerable.”

“font-size: small”>“We don’t

have those older roots to anchor us in the professional world,”

Darity said. “We don’t have the same nexus of contacts, the same

kind of seniority.”

“font-size: small”>There are no

recent government statistics that measure jobs lost by race and

income. But Darity and others believe that professional Latinos and

blacks are more likely to lose their jobs in the

recession.

“font-size: small”>“Many times

blacks and Latinos are the last to be hired, so naturally they are

first to be fired,” said Jerry Medley, who has been in the

executive search business for 30 years.

“font-size: small”>“Not saying

that it’s racism,” Medley said, “but if a manager or a senior

executive is looking at a slate of individuals and has to let one

of them go, chances are he or she will not let the person go that

they spend a lot of time with at the country club or similar

places.”

“font-size: small”>The less

wealth you have, the harder unemployment hits. Darity cited 2002

data that showed Black households with a median net worth of

$6,000, Latino households with a median of $8,000, and white

households with a median of $90,000.

“font-size: small”>Philip Salter

was creative director for a Chicago advertising firm where about 75

percent of the revenue came from a contract with a Fortune 500

company to create ads targeted at minorities. When the firm lost

that contract plus two general-market accounts, Salter’s job

evaporated.

“font-size: small”>“When

companies cut back their ad dollars, minority budgets are where

they start,” said Salter, 62, who is Black. “Unfortunately in this

business, most clients just view (minority advertising) as an

overlay or meeting an obligation that social organizations might

place on them.”

“font-size: small”>His last day

was in January 2008. With alimony payments and two kids in college,

Salter moved from his four-bedroom house into an apartment and has

scraped by on consulting gigs.

“font-size: small”>Salter’s

mother worked as a housekeeper, and his father was a custodian.

Before his divorce, Salter’s stepdaughter and her four children

lived with him for many years.

“font-size: small”>Professional

Blacks “don’t usually start out with an inheritance,” he said. “On

top of that, quite often things happen in our families to cause us

stress. Maybe an unexpected child or grandchild, or drug problems

could occur. When you try to set aside money to put your kids

through college, all of a sudden you have to say, ‘I can’t let this

family member fall and become homeless.’

“font-size: small”>“I would say

eight out of 10 people I know have a similar

situation.”

“font-size: small”>Then there

are those clinging to the bottom of the ladder, laid off from

lower-paying jobs.

“font-size: small”>For them,

“once the primary breadwinner loses his or her job, there isn’t

much backup,” said Harry Holzer, former chief economist for the

Department of Labor who now is a professor at Georgetown University

and the Urban Institute.

“font-size: small”>The Great

Depression ended after the government created a “safety net” of

wide-ranging social-assistance programs. Since then, the overall

unemployment rate peaked in 1981-1982, at 10.8 percent on a monthly

basis, Holzer said.

“font-size: small”>Economists

believe we could reach that level in the current recession, Holzer

said — but he added that unlike in the 1980s, today the safety net

has been largely dismantled by restrictions placed on welfare and

unemployment eligibility.

“font-size: small”>“You worry

about populations of concentrated poverty and having less access to

the safety net,” Holzer said. “It could lead to social unrest,

higher crime rates — no one knows.”

“font-size: small”>“It will

obviously have an effect on the crime rate,” said Maya Wiley,

director of the Center for Social Inclusion, which recently issued

a report stating that nonwhites are bearing the heaviest burden

during the recession.

“font-size: small”>“There also

are all sorts of health-related issues connected with that,” Wiley

said. “We could see higher rates of everything from homicides to

tuberculosis.”

“font-size: small”>As racism

wanes and Blacks and Latinos advance up the economic ladder, many

cite this progress as proof that it would be unfair to offer

race-based remedies to those left behind. Even many minorities have

embraced themes of self-help and personal

responsibility.

“font-size: small”>Others, like

the Duke professor Darity, say that America “has never come to

terms with racial economic inequality.”

“font-size: small”>“The current

situation,” Darity said, “is reinforcing and widening those

inequalities.”

 

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