Black male unemployment comparable to Great Depression, says economic expert

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WASHINGTON (NNPA)—While the nation is reeling over double-digit jobless rates showing up for the first time in decades, Black males are looking at numbers almost twice as worse.

Almost one in five Black men 20 years old or older are without a job, according to figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The seasonally-adjusted October unemployment rate for Black males is above 17 percent whereas the jobless rate for White adult males and females is under double digits at 9.5 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. At 12.4 percent, joblessness for Black women also skews above the national rate, which is currently at 10.2 percent, approaching the December 1982 level of 10.8 percent.

The disparate rates of Black male unemployment have teetered near recession-type numbers above 8 percent since 2001 but since April the rates have surged to around 17 percent, numbers which are comparable to the Great Depression of the early 1930s, according to Rodney Green, Ph.D., chairman of the economics department Howard University and the executive director of the Howard University Center for Urban Progress.

“There has been a consistent pattern of Black male unemployment rates that are twice the unemployment of White, even in good or bad times,” Green said. He said this is due to continuing discrimination against Black males in the labor market and also a split in the labor market where job loss is greatest in industries that employ large numbers of African-Americans such as construction, service and retail.

The typical cliché is “last hired first fired.” The pattern usually holds true in many of these recessions that Blacks and Hispanics get hit very hard early in the recession and are slower to recover once the economy starts picking back up. And if we start getting job gains, it still won’t favor Blacks and Hispanics until later in the recovery, said Roderick Harrison, a fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies who is an expert on labor markets.

The brunt of job losses have been faced by people without college degrees and Black males have lower rates among groups that hold college degrees.

“Men in this recession, generally of all races, are getting hit harder than women particularly because of the loss of jobs in industries that have traditionally been male-dominated such as finance, construction, real estate, manufacturing,” said Harrison, on why men of either race are seeing higher unemployment percentages than their female counterparts.

“Job losses are greater in industries and occupations that employ people without college degrees,” Harrison said. “Professionals and people with college degrees, with the exception of finance and real estate, have been better protected. They tend to have greater job stability.”

So what must be done to decrease Black male employment in an economy that many experts predict will long continue to be a jobless recovery?

Both Harrison and Green agree that education is key for African-American males. More must be done to increase Black men with college degrees.

“The major disadvantages that Black males, and to a certain extent, females face can and only will be overcome by closing education gaps. That is clearly the biggest contributor to the differentials in unemployment rates.” Harrison said.

Another thing they suggest is to organize politically against employment racism because unless there is major change in the current structure there is not much that can be done on the ground level in the short term.

“It will take a sustained movement of workers against discrimination in the labor market,” Green said. “They will need to wage a sharper struggle against employers who think nothing about throwing people out of work while giving themselves bigger bonuses.”

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