Disproportional Unemployment Hits the Black Community

July 13, 2009

Eric Brooks

Unemployment is devestating the Black community at a much higher rate than any other. As reported in Dallas South on July 2, official unemployment in the African-American community is 14.7% while the rate for whites was 8.7%. The rate for Black men was 16.4%. These are “official” unemployment rates, which leave out many of the unemployed, so the real rate is much higher.

The year over year difference in unemployment rates by race for quarter 1 2008/2009 is as follows:

2008 2009
White 4.8% 8.2%
Black 8.9% 13.6%

The New York Times (NYT) reported on July 13 that Job Losses Show Wider Racial Gap in New York.

While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.

The NYT article says economists “were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs”. It is, however, clear that there is a continuing social issue of economic racism at work in our society that needs to be addressed. This type of statistical differential in unemployment demands affirmative action on behalf of the impacted community.

“African-Americans have been hit disproportionately hard,” said Frank Braconi, the chief economist in the comptroller’s office. “The usual pattern is that the unemployment rate among African-Americans tends to be about twice as high as for non-Hispanic whites, but the gap has widened substantially in the city during the past year.”

Historically, the unemployment rate for blacks has always been higher than for whites. But since the start of the recession, in December 2007, the overall rate has risen by 4.6 percentage points — driving the black unemployment rate as high as 15 percent in April. The jobless figures among blacks became enough of a national issue that at a White House news conference last month, President Obama was asked what he could do to “stop the bloodletting in the black unemployment rate.”

The president said that to help any community, whether it be blacks, Latinos or Asians, he needed to “get the economy as a whole moving.”

Among the reasons for the disproportional impact of the current economic crisis on the Black community in New York is the cuts in federal and state jobs, such as postal workers, and service sector workers. Both are financial sectors that traditionally have been accessible to African-Americans so the cuts impact that community more.

The NYT reports that James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute, found “In comparing jobs data for the 12 months through April 30 with the previous one-year period, … white New Yorkers had gained jobs while blacks and other minority residents had lost them.”

While it may be true that we have to get the economy moving, it is vital that we deal with the issue of unemployment as a social responsibility. The statistics do not bring home the human cost that lies behind their simple numbers. However, for Black people in our lives the impact is huge. For most of us there is no leeway to survive unemployment. Further, if the trends continued, the length of time that Black people are unemployed may be much longer than for white people.

This is a situation that can’t be addressed by financial manipulations at a distance. Nor can the lives of those impacted await a general economic turn-around before receiving help. It is vital to aggressively provide sustenance to all those who are unemployed, particularly when the community is disproportionately impacted at such a huge differential, as is the Black community. As a society we can’t wait for “market forces” or the “system” to get fixed before we reach out to our sisters and brothers, to the millions with children and elderly depending on them, and provide desperately needed help.

A program for Jobs or Income Now is urgently needed to help to address this situation.

Eric Brooks can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ebrooks.


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