African-American Unemployment Dips to 15.3%
Over at Jack and Jill Politics, author Jill Tubman took note of the positive aspects of the country’s employment statistic for February citing figures from the Grio: “Employers hired in February at the fastest pace in almost a year and the unemployment rate fell to 8.9 percent – a nearly two-year low.” African-American unemployment went down to 15.3 percent and black youth declined sharply to 38.4 percent, “but remains the highest of any group,” she wrote. “The good news – some of your cousins have actually found jobs. Have Ray-Ray, Boo and Chico finally gotten off your couch?” “So that all sounds nice, don’t it?” Tubman continued. “Except did you notice how African-American unemployment is double that than the average and how 40 percent – close to half! – of black teens are out of work? Which means Pookie may be staying in your spare bedroom a mite longer, n’est pas?”
The bad news, the very perceptive Tubman wrote on the valuable website, “is that the old saying that when America catches a cold, Black America gets the flu remains in full effect” and there is only “a small hope” in the stats. “Where is the job training and help for college our community needs? Pell Grants – college financial aid directed at the poorest of the poor – are targeted for cuts by both the Obama administration and the Tea Party. Government jobs, traditionally a haven for African-Americans due to lower barriers to entry, are on the chopping block as state budgets crash and unions implode. Will hard-working teachers in inner city schools be forced to find new ‘service’ jobs serving sandwiches at Subway?”
Oh, if only such information and observations were more widely available. If only the big pundits in the major mass media saw and expressed thing as clearly. Unfortunately, the alarm Tubman expresses is – as far as I can tell – mostly restricted to a handful of African American commentators around the country, a media outlets big and small. However, what she write underscores something that should produce wider indignation: The economic situation facing African Americans is perilous and nearly everything being contemplated in Washington and state capitals around the country seem destined to make matters worse.
Take these examples:
While the recent decrease in the overall unemployment rate is good news for some, the massive layoffs being visited upon states and cities across the country in response to the ongoing economic crisis is not. This is particularly true in state and municipalities where public workers and their unions are under assault. It is also especially true for African American and other people of color.
Almost anyone in the African American community is quite aware of the role of public employment in black economic life. From early on many of the most secure jobs, those that had buttressed what some would call the “middle class” status of black workers, have been in public employment, be it at the Post Office, the transit system or the DMV. My first full time job was civil service clerk, a position from which my hard-working mother retired.
“For black men, the public sector—everything from police officers and firefighters to sanitation workers and government clerks—is the largest employer, providing 18 percent of jobs,” observes Nina Martin of New America Media “For black women, it’s the No. 2 employer, accounting for 23.3 percent of jobs. By comparison, the public sector employs 14.2 percent of white male and 19.8 percent of white female workers.”
The attacks on public sector workers will disproportionately affect blacks and women, researcher Steven Pitts recently told Martin. African Americans are 30 percent more likely to have jobs in the public sector, said Pitts, an economist at the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of California, Berkeley. One in five African-American workers are employed in public sector jobs, as opposed to one in six white workers and one in ten Latino workers.
“The assault on public-sector employment could not come at a worse time for blacks, who have been much harder hit by job losses—and cuts in the social safety net—than the workforce as a whole,” said Pitts. He might have added that because of the hardly-over Great Recession, the African American community’s total economic worth declined and public workers layoffs will be still another hit.
“If you talk with people engaged with the black community, you know that the public sector is an important niche of black employment,” Pitts said. “Despite all the talk about cutbacks, no one has been talking about how this would have a disproportionate effect on the black community.”
“A lot of times, when people think about racial discrimination, they think about someone in a Klan sheet,” Pitts told Martin. “It’s important to understand that even if someone like Scott Walker does not express an overt prejudice toward blacks, their policies still can have racial impacts that are unconscious and widespread.”
Foreclosures and the Social Safety Net
As has been documented many times, African Americans, Latinos and Asian have been hit disproportionately hard by the home mortgage crisis. That means that the precariousness of black homeowners increases as the number of instances grows in which the value of people’s homes becomes less than the amount of the mortgage, situations referred to as “underwater.”
Researchers say that during the last quarter of 2010 about 11.1 million households, or 23.1 percent of all mortgaged homes, were underwater, up from 22.5 percent, or 10.8 million households, in the previous quarter.
“It’s a tough time for people in minority and immigrant communities and we see it in our courts every day,” Charles Small, Chief Clerk for civil matters in the New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn told Tony Best of Carib News this month. “People in the Caribbean immigrant community who are pursuing the American dream of homeownership are really feeling it.”
“With unemployment in Black and Hispanic communities hovering between 13 to 15 percent, Small and other court officials are reporting a deluge of foreclosure cases, applications for evictions, judgments for unpaid credit card debts and efforts by tenants to force their landlords to provide heat, make repairs or otherwise ensure their properties are in livable condition,” wrote Best.
According to Best, in Brooklyn alone, there are about 15,000 foreclosure cases in the courts or arbitration. “These are tough times and we see it in the cases for foreclosures, unpaid debt and landlords who have not been paid the rents due to them and the tenants who are fighting evictions,” said a court official in the Bronx. “Minorities are the hardest hit because they are feeling the brunt of the unemployment situation.”
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