Sat 21 Mar, 2009
Tags: Racial inequality, Unemployment
The lead story in this morning’s L.A. Times provides another stark illustration of how the cumulative weight of centuries of racial discrimination continue to profoundly impact the lives of millions of black Americans.
The story, “Blacks lose ground in job slump,” reports that in February, while the national unemployment rate was 8.1%, for blacks that figure was 13.4% … and for black males, 16.3%.
The article seems to have been intended to report on the February jobs figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, focusing on the rise in unemployment in California to 10.5%, well above the national average. However, as the headline indicates, the Times decided to emphasize the stunning national figures for black workers, noting that black unemployment “has reached levels not seen in decades.”
There is nothing new in the fact that unemployment rates for black workers are higher than those for white workers, or that black workers are particularly hard-hit during a recession. The immediate causes of this phenomenon are also not simple, and are not primarily driven by overt racism or even subtle racial bias among employers.
However, these figures are a grim reminder that for a variety of reasons, the impact of slavery and subsequent generations of Jim Crow discrimination continue to impact the black population of this country. Black communities often face challenges with education, job training, and other infrastructure issues, as well as higher rates of poverty and incarceration. Beyond this, because of generations of lack of opportunity, black families are, on average, less able to pass along critical advantages to their children, in areas like education, financial resources, and social capital for finding jobs and advancing in a career.
The article details staggering job losses in blue-collar industries which employ many black workers, such as the auto industry and transportation, and in retail, services and manufacturing in general. The story also suggests that the recession is beginning to significantly impact the black middle class, with job losses in areas like public education and government services:
Now layoffs are beginning to reach a once fast-growing cohort of black professionals, managers and government workers, including many who overcame discrimination and limited economic and educational opportunities to win quality jobs.