African American Youth Joblessness and the “New Normal”

unemployed black youthAfrican American Teen Unemployment Rate

It’s possible that I just didn’t see it but one of the most significant and alarming statistic in the nation’s September employment report seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. So here it is. The unemployment rate for each of the major demographic groups remained about the same last month, some even declined a tad. However, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for African Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 reached 49 percent, up from 45.4 percent in August and 41.7 percent for the same period last year.

It used to be that when people concerned with the matter commented on the black teenage jobless rate, they would put in a line about half, or nearly half, of the young people were without work in major urban centers. Now it’s the case from Boston to Bakersfield. Is this the “new normal” we hear so much about?

Pointing to a somewhat different set of statistics, here is what David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote October 8:

The economy lost 95,000 jobs in September – 77,000 of which were temporary Census positions – while the unemployment rate held at 9.6 percent. Including downward revisions in payroll employment for July and August, there are 110,000 fewer jobs than reported one month ago.

Though the overall rate of unemployment did not change in September, different populations were not similarly affected by employment changes. The employment-to-population ratio was unchanged at 58.5 percent. While white adults saw relatively little change in their EPOPs (-0.1 percentage points for men, 0.1 percentage points for women), the EPOP for black men aged 20 and over fell 0.5 percentage points in the month and 2.6 percentage points for African-American teens.

The fall in the latter is particularly striking as only 16.2 percent of black teens were employed as recently as May. Ten years ago, 29.5 percent of black teens were employed compared to 11.7 percent in September.

This cannot be considered acceptable. The Congress and the White House should be told that this is unacceptable. Those people out there trying to rally the “hip-hop vote” ought to take the lead in saying this situation cannot endure.

There is already far too much pain and economic insecurity in the African American community which has taken a big hit economically because of the system’s most recent crisis. If it remains almost impossible for a couple of generations of young women and men to earn a decent living, it is calamitous for black people and the country. They cannot become the personification of the “new normal.”

And we don’t need to hear anymore misleading claims that these young people have been “left behind by history,” victims of technology and globalization. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke said the other day that the country’s current jobless level reflects the state of the economy, is not what some refer to as “structural” and that little of it can be traced to people having the wrong skills or being in the wrong location. This view was echoed last week by labor market expert Peter Diamond, recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics.

The New York Times said editorially last Sunday that as soon as the November election is over the President “needs to fight harder for big stimulus projects – in infrastructure or alternative energy. He has to keep pushing until Congress and the public understand that without more stimulus the best that can happen will be years of only limping along.” For these unemployed minority youth it’s much worse than limping along.

Last week, President Obama took questions from an audience of young people, in person and by way of Twitter, during a session streamed live on the Web. At one point a young black man complained that despite all the government recent spending “our unemployment rate still rises” and that even though he is a college graduate he’s having trouble finding a job. The President responded with his now stock answer: the jobs were lost before I was elected and the Administration kept the country out of a real depression. These kids know what a real depression feels like. It’s having empty pockets in a madly consumerist society. It’s being unable to plan for a family and things like having children and sending them to school.

The question is where do we go from here?

The President recently laid out a proposal for a moderate stimulus program involving a reasonable project to see to the country’s real infrastructure needs. But we didn’t hear much about it after that and the trifling Congress adjourned to go home and try to save their collective butts.

At the beginning of the year, the Economic Policy Institute projected that unemployment for African Americans would reach a 25-year high of 17.2 percent this year with the rates in five states exceeding 20 percent. Three quarters into the year it stands at 16.1 percent, up from 15.5 percent a year ago. “These sobering data show us that the nation must do more to address the ongoing human tragedy brought on by this recession,” EPI researcher Kai Filion commented at the time. “There is no reason why we should tolerate such outcomes – elected officials can and must put millions of Americans back to work with bold, targeted job creation policies.”

Among the consequences Filion predicted is a staggering poverty rate of 50 percent for African American children.

When the International Monetary Fund met in Washington on October 9th, its managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, issued a sobering warning. “We face the risk of a lost generation,” he said. “When you lose your job, your health is likely to be worse. When you lose your job, the education of your children is likely to be worse. When you lose your job, social stability is likely to be worse – which threatens democracy and even peace. So we shouldn’t fool ourselves. We are not out of the woods yet. And for the man in the street, a recovery without jobs doesn’t mean much.”

Carl Bloice

Republished with permission from The Blackcommentator


  1. Ryder says

    And yet Blacks keep voting for Democrats that throw open the floodgates to anyone that wants to come here illegally…. flooding anyone offering a gob…

    But they’ll still vote for democrats… who in turn just slap them hard… while telling comforting bed-time stories… about how the hero democrats “save” blacks from the evil republicans that want to capture them and make them work as slaves.

    And the Mexicans go… yeah.. whatever… I’ll pour you a new patio for $1,200. Do we have a deal?

    I think it’s high time black Americans stop listening to the bedtime stories.

    Can you work? Do something of value? If so, there is a republican somewhere starting a business, and needs your help, and is willing to pay you for it. Just hope that someone here illegally doesn’t scoop up that job, leaving you on the street.

  2. Tom Murphy says

    Unacceptable is right.  Percentages also sound about right considering how many black youths receive absolutely pitiful parenting and guidance.  From the get-go, too many are “too cool for school.”  Is it then so surprising that so many are without any marketable skills.  Being taught by teachers like the you tube sensation from Salisbury, NC just exacerbates the problem.  How many more ebonically speaking teachers are out there doing a disservice to young people? 
    What are the real motives of so many of the so-called black leaders who do nothing but scream for “justice” while refusing to acknowledge that, just maybe, sometimes blacks are reaping what they’ve sown.

  3. says

    Bottom line its called morals and values, something that’s sadly missing in black commuites. Morals plus values leads to civility. Behaviour and appearance are everything when looking for work. If you go and apply for a job looking like a hip-hop artist with tatooes and rings through your nose what do you expect. Anyways, I can’t believe I have to state the obvious. 

  4. Lola says

    Thank you for this important but frustrating update. I coordinate the first-ever Los Angeles Black Worker Center. The LA Black Worker Center develops organized power among Black workers and the extended community to reverse the disproportionate levels of unemployment and underemployment in the Los Angeles Black community. It seeks social and economic justice, peace, and prosperity for all of Los Angeles by undoing public policies and corporate practices that perpetuate inequality in the labor market and promote inferior jobs in the Black community.

    The Los Angeles Black Worker Center is working to address this dilemma by organizing black workers to understand what happening in the economy and to develop strategies and their power to address them. Quite frankly, there are work opportunities being created in the community but the work is consistently bad dead-end jobs that provide no future and no support for Black workers or any human being that wants to live a life of dignity and respect.

    At the same time, local leaders are not doing enough to ensure that publically-funded projects are linked to good jobs and the community. Case in point: on Oct. 19th, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted against a motion put forth by Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas to suppport a project labor agreement and local hire initiative for Martin Luther King Hospital— a 400 million dollar construction project in the heart of Watts. A project labor agreement is contract between the unions, the agency and the construction companies. It deals with labor standards, project effeciency and allows a mechanism for the union to provide workers from targeted zipcodes where the highest levels of unemployment exist.

    Many of us watched in horrror as the Other board members: Michael Antonovich; Gloria Molina; Don Knabe; and Zev Yaroslavsky voted to stall the project saying they supported local hire but not the project labor agreement. Well, without the project labor agreement– our young folks can’t get into the union and have long-term job access to work and apprenticeship skills. Also, there is no entity holding local contractors accountable to local hire because most agenecies do not pay for the enforecement mechansism. The union typically does most of the neforcement when PLA/Local hire is in place .

    The Los Angeles Black Worker Center is working with the unions and stakeholders to ensure there is equity and transparency in the PLA/Local Hire policy. We want to ensure that contractors who receive publically funded projects- in fact hire local residents and that they workcrews LOOK like the people who pay for them. We want workers to get access to the job free of discrimination.

    But we couldn’t have that conversation because the Board of Supervisors apparently are opposed to the concept of local people getting good jobs. So why is this. Well, there are billions ofdollars worth of projects at the county and the MLK hospital will set a precedent. It will say that all PLA/Local hire should be applied or at least considered for all of those projects. It would say any construction work funded by the county should result in good union jobs and local residents should have them. That means many nonunion contractors who have typically brought workers from out side of the county and even the state will be precluded from the work. These fat cats don’t like PLA/local hire powershift. It seemsthis is a question of their power against the people.

    What else could it be when the research shows that projects done through project labor agreements are done on time and typically save money for the public agency.

    When research shows local hire results in millions of dollars going back into the local economy–some of thehardest hit zipcodes– because local workers get good union construction paychecks. In terms of black workers, evidence shows PLA/Local Hire is a strong step toward correcting the historic exclusion of black workers from the construction trades and is the only way to Black. It is also gives disadvantaged workers in our communities access to these jobs at a decent scale–/despite or inspite of Prop 209 which does not allow you to recruit on the basis of race.

    And for leaders such as Gloria Molina where research shows that Latino residents in LA have about 30 percent of children living below the poverty level–many in her district– it is immoral for the her to lead the BOS to take such a stance. You could see Mark Ridley Thomas’ frustration as more than 400 of his constituents mostly African American sat in the audience and watched this public whipping. Many had gavepowerful and painful testimony of how their families ae hungry and need to work– particularly in a community such as Watts.

    You could see the unions’ frustration as unemployment is high in their halls. But more importantly you could see the disappointment on the faces of the young people from YouthBuild who came out hoping that this meant jobs to reward all their training…

    So in response to this article, it must be said that Black workers, young brothers and sisters in our community must rise up to the 21st civil right challenge of our day and that is: WILL America provide the jobs that lead to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness! As Dr. King says- what good does it profit us to sit at the counter if we can’t afford the price of a hamburger. If we believe that OBAMA and any other law maker is going to change our lives– we ought to consult the history books. I ask everyone to call the Board of Supervisors and demand that they support the Project Labor Agreement/local hire for MLK and all projects

    Zev Yaroslavsky(213) 974-3333 (westside)
    Molina Gloria Phone: (213) 974-4111 (Eastside)
    Don Knabe: (213) 974-4444
    Michael Antonovich: 213-974-5555

  5. says

    In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope.
    My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing “The Single Voice Petition”

    Please visit our website for further information:

    –Ahma Daeus
    “Practicing Humanity Without A License”…


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