As we examine the State of Black America in 2010, we are overwhelmed by the current crisis of unemployment.
African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, and in some areas of the country, nearly one in four young black men are out of work.
The National Urban League has asked people who’ve been affected by the crisis to share their stories through our new social mobilization platform at www.iamempowered.com. Their stories are both heartbreaking and hopeful.
Christina, a 45-year-old woman, unemployed for 15 months, struggles to care for her cancer-stricken mother: “Other than screaming I am not sure what I will do in the next few months without gainful employment. The chronic need in communities of color is not to just extend unemployment benefits but to give us counselors at the unemployment office who have the time, skills and energy to really offer concrete help.”
Melissa, a young college graduate facing college loan payments, questions her decision to seek higher education: “Even if I defer my student loans the interest is growing so much that it will only make my situation worse. I need help, and not just a job bill but a career bill that allow for more entry-level jobs to help graduates get into some of these job fields that would allow equal chance to get a better salary.
A bewildered grandmother is desperate to hang on to her home and support her two granddaughters: “I have the skills that the employers are requesting, yet what are they looking for in a person? …I sit at my computer, day in and day out, using the search engines to find leads on employment only to find nothing. There appears to be nothing out there.”
A Chicago woman with dangerously high blood pressure and no health insurance has seen her family scatter in search of work: “I am not out of hope yet, but I am becoming one of the hopeless. I have lost all of my pride.”
A young father, out of work for two years, has reached the end of his unemployment benefits: “I don’t want a handout, just a job to help support my family and pay my debts and feel like a man again.”
Mary Ellen Caron, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services, wrote that last year’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the City of Chicago to offer an additional 8,000 summer job opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth, bringing the total of youth jobs funded by the city and its public and private partners to 20,000. The city received nearly 80,000 applications for the positions. “Without the ARRA funding there would have been summer jobs for only 14 percent- one in seven – of the young people that applied for one … Without continued federal investment, an entire generation of young people is at risk of being severely or even permanently disconnected from the labor market.”
Caron cited research showing that a quality teenage employment experience correlates to a successful adult transition into the labor market. People who are unemployed for long periods in their teens or early 20s are more likely to develop drinking or drug habits, depressive symptoms and other disruptive behavior.
I know my own summer job experiences as a teenager helped me build confidence and develop positive habits that helped shape my life. I think every young person deserves an equal shot at success.
That’s why the National Urban League’s plan, Putting Americans Back to Work, calls for at least a $5 million investment in the Youth Summer Jobs Program to employ up to five million teens, and the creation of 100 urban jobs academies to expand the Urban Youth Empowerment Program.
Our plan also proposes targeted investments now for direct job creation, greater access to credit for small businesses, additional counseling relief for those caught in the backlog of the foreclosure process, and tax incentives for clean energy companies who employ individuals in the targeted communities.
Melvin, a former convict, is trying to turn his life around: “No one wants to hire me, but that’s okay because they don’t know what they have in me as an asset to the company that hires me. I’m going to keep on plugging the holes and gaps through the help of the Urban League of Jacksonville, and I will not give up.”
We at the National Urban League are with Melvin: we will not give up.