African-American unemployment: Connected to low high school graduation rates?

theGRIO REPORT - Latest reports reflect that for "African-Americans, the jobless rate is 15.8 percent, the same as it was in December 2010." Could lower rates of high school graduation be the cause?

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The release of the recent jobs report is being met with high hopes that America’s economic recovery will remain solid. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that 200,000 jobs were added to the economy in December, and that the national unemployment rate has fallen from 8.7 to 8.5 percent.

Yet for blacks, unemployment numbers remain grim. The latest BLS report reflects that for “African-Americans, the jobless rate is 15.8 percent, the same as it was in December 2010,” showing that blacks have not shared in the nationwide employment expansion.

African-American unemployment levels tend to be twice that of the national unemployment rate, regardless of the overall state of the economy. An analysis of BLS data that compares unemployment rates to levels of educational attainment gives some insight into this plague of persistently higher black unemployment.

For the general population, the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent in December 2011 for those without a high school diploma, according to seasonally adjusted data. For high school graduates, the level was slightly higher than the national rate at 8.7 percent. U.S. workers with some college or an associate’s degree had an unemployment rate of just 7.7 percent. College degree holders seem to be the most financially secure, as their group had the lowest rate of unemployment at 4.1 percent.

While education levels do not tell the whole story behind higher rates of black unemployment, these numbers reveal a correlation between joblessness and schooling levels. Addressing this statistical relationship might improve the job prospects of many African-Americans. Addressing low graduation rates for black students could be a crucial first step in tackling the black unemployment problem.

In the 2010 report, Yes We Can: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males, it was revealed that only 47 percent of black males nationwide graduated from high school during the 2007-2008 academic year. In addition, the crisis in education for young black men has been explored in depth in many forums, with alarm over issues such as the high drop out rate among this group rising in recent months.

Yet the clear connection between high black employment and being under-educated has not been addressed by many civic leaders. Last year, Milwaukee became the first city to create programs that target black male unemployment, which tends to be an intractable problem in many locales. This cycle of joblessness often leads black and Latino men into a pattern of recurrent incarceration, a study pioneered by New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg has found.

But while the program in Milwaukee focuses on training programs that lead to blue collar jobs, Mayor Bloomberg has created an initiative that focuses on education. In an innovative plan that will hopefully help hundreds of thousands of young black and Latino men join the work world, Bloomberg has invested some of his personal fortune into initiatives that include paying students to go to school.

While laudable, these cities’ attempts to address black male unemployment will do little to address national employment predicament caused by the black education gap. In 2011, only 57 percent of blacks and Latinos graduated from high school, compared to 80 percent of Asians and 78 percent of whites.

In light of the latest BLS employment statistics, and the clear relationship illustrated between low levels of education and joblessness, these discrepancies in graduation rates raise urgent questions.