The nation’s economic crisis has been tough for millions of Americans, but times have been especially tough for young Black men.
Black men between 16 and 24 years old are struggling with a staggering 34.5 percent unemployment rate, a Great Depression era-type statistic that’s three times higher than the general U.S. population.
And things aren’t much better for young women. Black women between 16 and 24 years old suffer a 26.5 percent jobless rate, while the unemployment rate for all women in that age range is 15.4 percent. The combined jobless rate for young Black men and women is 30.5 percent.
Black unemployment has consistently lagged behind the general population, experts say, but it appears Blacks are losing more ground just as the economy is showing signs of improving.
Civil rights organizations, advocacy groups and several economists have expressed alarm at the dire Black unemployment figures and have wondered aloud when, and if, President Barack Obama’s administration will do something to directly address the issue.
Earlier this month, the NAACP joined forces with the National Council of La Raza and the AFL-CIO to prompt the White House to do more to create more jobs.
“It’s time for us to really stoke this issue up,” said Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “We’re not so much trying to convince him to do something he doesn’t want to do, but urging him to move forward on an issue we have agreement on.”
“Make no mistake, for us this is the civil rights issue of the moment,” added Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference. “Unless we resolve the national job crisis, it will make it hard to address all of our other priorities.”
Obama has announced that the White House will hold a jobs summit next month.
Recent presidents – from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush – have traditionally shied away from implementing Black or minority-specific job programs, saying that all races and ethnic groups are uplifted when the overall economy is good.
That rationale doesn’t wash with Boyce Watkins, a Syracuse University finance professor and author of Financial Lovemaking 101: Merging Assets with Your Partner in Ways that Feel Good.
“President Obama has created a task force on the middle class. He has formed a task force for the automobile industry. His administration has issued bailouts left and right to banks, insurance companies and Wall Street executives,” Watkins wrote. “And although the Black community does not represent the majority of President Obama’s constituency, one might argue that a task force on Black unemployment could be worth the time it takes to sign a document.”
Meanwhile, experts ponder why Black unemployment is so high. Many say the old standby reasons are still relevant: discrimination, poverty, lesser education opportunities than their white counterparts and that Black workers are traditionally the last ones hired and first ones fired.
Herman Brewer, acting CEO of Chicago’s Urban League, told NPR that lots of people have lost jobs, but it’s especially difficult for Black men “because many have had to overcome so much just to get where they were in a particular job.”
Some analysts say there are new wrinkles in employment patterns that are adversely impacting Blacks trying to land jobs. Some companies that emphasized diversity in hiring practices in good economic times have quietly shied away from the policy during the recession. And older, more experienced white workers who’ve been downsized from corporate payrolls are now finding themselves competing for the same low-to-medium-wage jobs with young Black job-seekers fresh out of high school or college.
Several studies indicate that race, more than education, plays a bigger role in who does and doesn’t get a job. The Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University reported that lower-income white teens were more likely to find work than higher-income Black teens and that Blacks with college degrees have a jobless rate twice that rate of their white peers.
“Black men were less likely to receive a call back or job offer than equally qualified white men,” Devah Pager, a Princeton University sociology professor who studied young Black and white male job applicants in Milwaukee and New York. “Black men with a clean record fare no better than white men just released from prison.”