The White House welcomed the new unemployment data for November, which showed that the nation’s jobless rate dropped from 10.2 percent to 10.0 percent. The U.S. economy lost 11,000 jobs last month, 115,000 fewer jobs than were forecasted. “Overall this is the best jobs report we’ve seen since 2007,” President Obama told a crowd in Allentown, PA. “This is good news, just in time for the season of hope. We’ve still got a long way to go. I consider one job lost one job too many.”
Wait a minute. Before we pop open the champagne and celebrate the coming of the next economic recovery, we have to face some harsh realities. Without government intervention, things could still get much worse. And African-Americans, who have been hardest hit by the Great Recession and home foreclosures, have unemployment rates which are far higher than the country as a whole. What will the President do about the crisis of black joblessness?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the black unemployment rate is 15.6 percent, which does not include the underemployed, and those who gave up looking for work altogether. This breaks down to 11.7 percent unemployment for black women, and 16.9 percent for black men. Meanwhile, an astounding 49.4 percent of black teens who are in the labor market are unemployed, as opposed to 23 percent of white teens. For young black men, joblessness has reached Depression-era crisis proportions.
And these days, even an education doesn’t take the edge off when you’re black. In 2009, the unemployment rate for college-educated black men 25 and older (8.4 percent) is nearly double that of white men who graduated from college (4.4 percent).
So, why are black workers suffering so much in the labor market? Perhaps the lack of opportunities and job training in urban communities is partly to blame. A number of studies also suggest that racial discrimination is at play. A 2008 study found that white, Hispanic and Asian managers hire more whites and fewer blacks than do black managers. According to a University of Chicago study, blacks with an identifiably black speech pattern earn 12 percent less than whites with similar skills. Meanwhile, “job applicants with “whitenames receive 50 percent more callbacks for interviews than those with African-American names. Although whites with a higher-quality resume have a 30 percent higher callback rate than whites with a lower quality resume, blacks with top credentials receive little or no benefit from their pedigree.
It is no surprise that some black job hunters have resorted to whitewashing their resume, or getting the black out, if you will – perhaps abbreviating a black-sounding middle name, omitting their affiliations with African-American organizations, changing their voice during phone interviews, or leaving out their racial identification on a job application. However, this doesn’t solve the problem, it only highlights it.
The realities of today’s economic landscape are harsh, and no one is immune. There are six job seekers for every job opening, lower paid jobs for those who can find employment, and unpaid internships (also known as slavery) is the new growth industry. It could get worse before it gets better. But while America has caught a bad cold, maybe even the flu, black America has caught pneumonia. And as some people announced, in error, that racism disappeared the day that President Obama was sworn into office, it is plausible that some employers scrapped their diversity programs as well.
The President is in a position to make things right on the job front, but so far he has yet to step up. Everyday working people have suffered in silence as Wall Street received billions of dollars in bailouts, a generous reward for ruining the economy. Plus, the $787 billion economic stimulus program was inadequate, and only recently did Obama convene a jobs summit.
On Tuesday, Obama will deliver an economic speech that will outline a plan that he hopes will encourage businesses to create new jobs. It is clear that bold steps are needed from a president elected as an agent of change. But the private sector cannot do it alone, and only government can turn the economy around with a comprehensive jobs program. After all, the government is the employer of last resort. Now is the time to help Main Street, and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard for that matter.
Thankfully, the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights organizations have begun to challenge the President for not doing more to help the black community. He must not take African-Americans, among his most enthusiastic supporters, for granted. Their patience is wearing thin, and they need help now. Thirty-thousand new job openings in Afghanistan simply will not do.