The latest unemployment rates, which are now hovering at around 10.2 percent, have been devastating to the economy. Recent numbers show some signs of life in the housing and stock markets. Still, one economist has characterized this very slow recovery as a steady two steps forward and one step backward.
However, in the African-American community with the unemployment rate at 15.7 percent, there has yet to be any good news or any sign of a recovery. Also, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that African-Americans had a higher rate of job loss in the fourth quarter of 2008 than did whites, Latinos, or the catch all category “other.”
This recession has hit men, despite race, harder than it has women. Latest statistics show that four out of every five jobs lost have been held by a male worker. In addition, men more than women view themselves as being the financial providers. When they lose that earning power, it negatively impacts their self-esteem and self-worth.
The psychological fallout of this recession, regardless of race, is seen in several high-profile homicides and suicides perpetrated by men against their families. Though these situations may not be scientifically connected to this flat economy, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is psychological fallout that is being experienced disproportionately by men.
Because black males have higher numbers of unemployment rates compared to their white counterparts, the inescapable conclusion is that they are also suffering more – not just financially, but emotionally. Therefore, with the black unemployment rate higher than any time in recent memory, there has been – or will be – an impact on the black male psyche and, in turn, on the black family as a whole.
Perhaps the best way to analyze the present or potential effects is to look at the present vulnerabilities and at-risk situations black males and their families face:
Research shows that domestic violence in the African-American community is more prevalent than in the white community. For example, one in three African-American women is abused by a husband or partner in the course of a lifetime. Much of this violence is rooted in the anger and frustrations black men experience because of racism, and poverty they face. These frustrations are transferred onto their partners, wives and families.
It stands to reason that as poverty increases for black men under the present unemployment rates, they will experience much more anger and frustration, which in turn will be acted out against their families and intimate partners in particular. In my private practice, I am seeing an increase in marital conflicts about financial securities amongst black couples, some leading to verbal domestic violence. For couples that are not getting psychological treatment, I am sure it is only a matter of time before their verbal abuse will turn physical.
Single Parent Homes
According to Dr. Linda Malone -Colón, Director of the Hampton University National Center on African American Marriages and Parenting, although all racial groups have shown an increase in out of wedlock births – Caucasian women at 29 percent and Latinas at 51 percent – black women lead this trend at 72 percent. This staggering statistic speaks very clearly to the crisis of our dysfunctional relationships in the black community.
Again, it is my assertion that the higher unemployment rates for black males will eventually cause them to give up not only on the job searching, not only on themselves, but eventually on their responsibilities to their children and their babies’ mothers. This abandonment will certainly result in more female single parents and an increase in the risk factors that will affect their children down the line.
Current research has shown that an equal percentage, 12 percent of black males and white males suffer from depression. However, the difference is that fewer black men seek mental health treatment. One historic reason is that there is a basic distrust of the white medical establishment, a psychological byproduct of the infamous Tuskegee experiments.
The other and major reason black men do not seek treatment is because they are emotionally inarticulate; in other words, they are unable to express their emotional pain. Much of this comes from the self-delusion that as black men they must carry an impenetrable skin and macho persona that will not allow anyone to have access to the pain that they have amassed through years of slavery and day-to-day racism.
Terrie Williams, a social worker and the author of Black Pain, has talked prolifically about depression in the black community and the links between depression and present joblessness rates. Again, in my practice, I have found this link to the very real. But since the great recession, I am now seeing more African-American men discussing the increasing frustration and the despair they are experiencing. They are frustrated – not only about being laid off or unable to find work – but also about how they are feeling absolutely worthless to their families and to themselves.
My patients have the wherewithal to discuss their depression, but what about scores of black men who are not getting therapy? Who are they consulting? Dr. Johnnie Walker Black? The point is that many of these brothers who are not getting help may in fact turn to alcohol, drugs or other inappropriate and self-destructive behaviors.
A Possible Solution
Alexandra Cawthorne of the Center for American Progress, writes that we must adopt policies that reduce inequities and promote equal opportunity in the labor market, which include combating racial discrimination by employers and supporting the creation of “green jobs” in low-income communities, among several other initiatives.
But from a psychological point of view, I assert that state, city and federal government must allocate funds towards mental health clinics, hospitals and community and media organizations to reach out to black men in their most dire time of need. These men must be educated about the benefits of addressing their anger, frustration, depression and any other mental health issues that have resulted from a recession that is slowly but surely destroying their self-worth and causing collateral damage to their intimate relationships.