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On Both Sides of the Pond: Bad News for Young Black Workers


Some truly distressing news made its way across the Atlantic last week. The jobless rate for young black male jobseekers in Britain rose from 28.8 percent in 2008 to 55.9 percent at the end of last year. According to government statistics, "Unemployment rate for black 16 to 24-year-olds available for work now double that for white counterparts," James Ball, Dan Milmo and Ben Ferguson wrote in the Guardian March 9, reflecting the fact that "the recession is hitting young black people disproportionately hard." (Unemployment among young black women – nearly 40 percent – is also higher than any other ethnic group). The figures, the paper said, "brought calls for further government action from business and community figures in the UK."

The jobless statistics for the U.S. in February came out last week and while the overall picture improved somewhat (for which the Obama Administration can justly take much of the credit), the unemployment rate for African Americans has gone up from 13.6 percent in
January to 14.1 percent. The rate for black youth fell from 38.5 percent to 34 percent over the month. The significant fact about this category is that while fluctuating a little month by month the jobless rate is stubbornly high and has been so for years.

Because of differing methods used to compile statistics, the numbers for the U.S. and the UK are not directly comparable. Also, over there "black" refers primarily to people whose family origins are in Africa or the Caribbean. However, the message from London is
stark: over 50 percent of young black men are jobless; the same holds true for some metropolitan areas of this country.

Last week, citing youth jobless numbers of nearly 30 percent in Ireland and close to 50 percent in Greece, economist Paul Krugman wrote that some countries "are systematically denying a future to their young people."

Youth unemployment rates remain alarmingly high on both side of the Atlantic – indeed, through much of the capitalist world. At the same time, the Republican Party in the U.S. and the political Right in Europe press forward with their aim of compelling workers to work more years before retiring, not exactly a formula for creating job vacancies for first time job seekers to fill.

The most recent unemployment statistics for the U.S. indicate a significant, and welcome, downward trend. They also further illustrate the precariousness of the situation for young workers and people of color in today's still crisis prone economies. Latino workers also saw their jobless rate climb slightly in February to 10.7 percent from 10.5 percent the month before. Although few in official Washington will cotton up to it, and the media ignores those who do, special measures are called for. Such steps were taken during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The government can, and should, move to alleviate the situation by being
the employer of last resort. But it won't happen as long as the neo-liberal, free marketers rule the day in Washington.

"Since the start of the Great Recession, the national unemployment rate peaked in 2010 with an annual average of 9.6 percent," Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote on Bet.com March 8. "Everyone would agree that 9.6 percent is a high rate of unemployment. From 2002 to 2005, however, before the Great Recession, the African-American unemployment rate
was over 10 percent. Since 2008, the Black unemployment rate has exceeded 10 percent. My current projections are that the Black unemployment rate will continue to exceed 10 percent through 2015."

The sad fact is that for most of the past 50 years, the black unemployment rate has been above 10 percent. While whites have experienced short periods of high unemployment, high unemployment has been a consistent feature of African-American life," wrote Austin.

On March 5, Diane Abbott, a Labor Party member of the British Parliament, wrote in the Guardian, "One of the causes of high black unemployment is shared by working
class males whatever their color. Structural changes in the economy mean that the type of blue-collar jobs that the first generation of migrants did no longer exists. When I was a child, areas like Willesden and Park Royal in north-west London were full of manufacturing and light-engineering factories. The large black community there owes its existence partly to just those employment opportunities. But these jobs have largely vanished from London."

Something similar can be said about Gary, Indiana, Cleveland, Ohio and Oakland, California.

"There is no question that a lack of qualifications holds some young black people back," continued Abbot whose forbearers emigrated from Jamaica. "But there is anecdotal evidence that black people emerging from university with the same qualifications as their white peers find it much more difficult to get employment. Lack of qualifications alone does not account for this level of unemployment."

"What is clear is that this recession is hitting ethnic minorities disproportionately hard," continued Abbot. "And the figures can only get worse. Black people, particularly women, are more likely to work in the public sector. This is partly because in diverse inner-city areas the public sector is the biggest employer. But it is also because large public-sector organizations tend to have better, more transparent policies around equal opportunity. Yet the public
sector is bearing the brunt of [Prime Minister] George Osborne's cuts."

Sound familiar?

"Some people will be antagonized by any discussion of the fact that spiraling unemployment is hitting black people hardest," Abbot continued. "They may think it a price worth paying for cutting back on public spending. Or they may argue that it doesn't matter what color you
are. But the more unequal a society, the unstable it is. And inequality with a racial dimension risks creating a time bomb. The immediate response to last summer's riots was (quite correctly) a call to restore order. But these figures are not irrelevant. Policymakers cannot afford to ignore black unemployment.

"Hardworking immigrant grandparents would not want special treatment for this generation: after all, they themselves did not have any. But they would expect this society to care, and be prepared to examine carefully what the underlying reasons might be. That generation
of migrants were God-fearing monarchists. So they would expect fairness and justice. And as their grandchildren might put it: `No Justice, No Peace'."

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union.  

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