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African Americans & the Reality of Joblessness


The story of the nation’s unemployment situation was exactly buried; it disappeared about as fast as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.


On Thursday, July 4, the media reported on the joblessness statistics for June. The news wasn’t good. It soon disappeared. Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, the story simply vanished. One searched high and low through the country’s major newspapers for some follow-up, some commentary on the figures and what they meant. For the most part, there wasn’t any, no editorial warning of what it might portend, no outcry from Presidential candidates, no reflection of the grim picture the numbers suggested.


The New York Times was no exception. There was a report in Sunday’s “The Week in the News” that noted that, “As a result of the disappointing figures, some economists may soon re-examine their forecasts for growth.” Aside from that, nothing. However, the original Times report on Independence Day eve was a significant one.


“Though the survey of households is considered a rougher picture than the survey of businesses, which does not tabulate workers by race, the figures from June sent a stark message,” said the Times report. “For every four white workers added to the work force in June, the number of employed whites rose by three. But for every four black workers added to the labor force, the number with jobs slipped by three.”


“In all, whites in the labor force rose by 461,000, and the number of employed whites rose by 321, 000,” the report went on. “But among blacks, 99,000 entered the work force, and the number of employed blacks fell by 73,000.”


For African Americans, the unemployment rate in June was 11.8 percent, up from 10.8 percent in May. For whites, it rose to 5.5 percent in June from 5.4 percent a month earlier.


I quote these figures here because unless you read the Times, in all likelihood you’ve never seen them. The substantial increase in black unemployment was only briefly noted or left out of nearly all other July 4 reporting on the June figures. The San Francisco Chronicle noted the almost one percentage point increase and the Los Angeles Times added that the Latino unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a point to 8.4 percent.


There’s far more to this story than that.


It used to be fairly easy to find the age breakdown for African Americans and Latinos in the job market, but unable to find work. It was included in the charts available under “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” but no more. Those figures were recently dropped from the report. They’re still there on the Department of Labor website but it takes a measure of internet surfing dexterity to find them.


The Labor Department survey tells us that the jobless rate for all persons between 16 and 19 years of age has risen steadily from 16.8 percent in January to 19.3 percent in June – the highest rate since the first half of 1993. What the now-hard-to-find chart tells you is that the black teenage unemployment rate has risen steadily from 30.1 percent in June 2002 to 39.3 percent this June. That’s close to a 10 percent leap. It means that out of every 10 African American young people looking for work, about four can’t find any.


It’s easy to see why some people might not want this picture spread around. Anyone who doubts the potentially negative social consequences of this situation are deluding themselves. Young black people are being denied anything like an equal opportunity to earn a living. The combined forces of racism, deindustrialization, the increasing outsourcing of job to low wage areas abroad and an increasingly deprived public education system are robbing them of a future. One has only to look at the recent violent outburst Benton Harbor to see what this means in real life.


All this should be a political issue but judging by the attention it’s being paid, it’s hardly being treated as an issue at all. Perhaps one of the many politicians currently currying favor amongst voters in communities of color will make it one. It would inject a crucial element into what little debate there is about the future of our country.


Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, works for a healthcare union and is a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.

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