The continuing high rate of black unemployment is, in part, the result of a sizable and continuing drop in the number of African-Americans employed by state and local governments.
Over the last two years, the economic recovery, while sluggish, has caused a sustained increase in private sector jobs. But, because most states have laws that prevent them from accumulating huge deficits, unlike the federal government, local and state governments have severely pared back their employees as they continue to have funding shortfalls.
Data released Friday showed that while nearly every other sector showed job growth, 15,000 more government jobs were lost.
And blacks have been disproportionately affected; about 20 percent of black workers are in government jobs the federal, state or local level.
In a report this week, the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, estimated about 177,000 blacks have lost jobs in the public sector over the last five years. (Nearly sixteen million African-Americans are working in the U.S., while more than two million are looking for jobs) Across all races and ethnic groups, more than 450,000 public sector jobs have been lost in just the past two years.
African-Americans have not only lost a major source of work, but a lucrative one. Black Americans earn an average of 12.9 percent less than white workers in the private sector, but “the wage disparity between African Americans and whites is only 2.2 percent” in government jobs,” according to EPI.
In fact, for black public sector workers with a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree, there is no racial pay gap, according to EPI. The EPI authors argue this pay equity is the result of stronger anti-discrimination protections in the public sector.
But these jobs now aren’t available for many black workers. And the layoffs are continuing, as many states around the country are still struggling to pay their bills.
Little help is likely to come from Washington. The 2009 stimulus bill President Obama championed included billions in aid to states to prevent the layoffs of teachers, police officers and other public service workers, thousands of whom are black.
But that provision has become the centerpiece of the Republicans’ case against President Obama as a champion of big government. Obama was able to get a much smaller stimulus-style bill through Congress in 2010, but a larger job creation bill that has been pushed for the last several months is barely being considered by congressional Republicans.
The 13 percent jobless rate for blacks in April, while a dip from March, virtually guarantees the first black president will stand for reelection while at least one of every 10 eligible, working-age African-Americans is jobless. And the lack of government jobs and work overall is not the only major economic challenge for African-Americans.
“Forget the smiling faces on television citing the latest hopeful economic statistics. Forget the assurances of self-styled black intellectuals that we are in some sort of marvelous post-racial era in which anybody can realize his or her dreams,” wrote former New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert in a recent piece in the American Prospect.
“The black community is shouldering its way through an economic calamity. More than a quarter of all black Americans are poor, as are more than a third of all black children. Doors of economic opportunity—in the workforce, in access to higher education, and elsewhere — are slamming shut at a breathtaking rate.”
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @perrybaconjr