Unemployment in the Black community…Where are the numbers?

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With a national unemployment rate of more than 10 percent and a city of Pittsburgh rate of 7.5 percent, both for the month of November, according to the Center of Workforce Information & Analysis of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, it is no wonder that local employment programs are in greater demand.

According to the center, Pittsburgh figures are lower than that of October, which was 7.8 percent and September, which was 7.6 percent. But what do these numbers mean for the African-American community in Pittsburgh? As these numbers decrease, unemployment rates for African-Americans are steadily increasing.

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JOB HUNT—Job seekers stood in line to talk to a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center representative about company job opportunities at the Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center’s Job Fair held in October at the Kingsley Association.

“Although those numbers (city of Pittsburgh) are low when it compares to the national rate, it does not represent the truest numbers as it pertains to neighborhoods which are predominately African-American in Pittsburgh,” Pennsylvania Rep. Jake Wheatley said. “ I believe that the unemployment rate for African-Americans is much higher. My guess is that we are at a historic high level of unemployment, especially for Black men 18-35.”

While researching the issue of unemployment, it was discovered that most state and local government institutions do not track the unemployment rate by race or by zip code and generally use metropolitan areas instead of actual urban cities which flaws numbers. The Center of Workforce Information was the only agency that tracked the city, most others, including the The Bureau of Labor Statistics, only tracked metropolitan areas. The Pittsburgh metropolitan area, for example, includes not only the city of Pittsburgh, but Mt. Lebanon, Monroeville, North Hills, Fox Chapel, South Hills and the many other affluent boroughs surrounding the city. All the employment groups contacted generally used these metropolitan area numbers.

However, according to the Center for American Progress’ “Weathering the Storm: Black Men in Recession,” in March, the national unemployment rate of African-American men nationally was 15.4 percent.

Wheatley said he has tried to find similar figures and agrees that it is an issue that needs to be solved. He said that in order to fix the unemployment issue in the African-American community, there first needs to be an acknowledgement on all levels that there is a chronic unemployment issue among African-Americans instead of hiding it and that work needs to be done to identify the true numbers and make them available to all.

He also believes that once the issue is identified, a commitment must be made, by both politicians and the business community, to make solving the unemployment issue a priority and to create realistic, measurable goals to solve the problem.

“I have been big on pushing for development in and around my district, because that is what creates jobs and opportunities. And once there are opportunities, they should fairly be made available for minorities, such as African-Americans, Latinos and women,” Wheatley said.

Shirley Muhammad, of Your Sister’s Project Inc., has been working with the White House to find solutions to put Americans back to work and will host a Community Job Forum Jan. 2 at the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside from 1-3 p.m. The forum will gather feedback from the community to be taken back to the White House for an official report for President Barack Obama.

Muhammad agrees that job creation is key, but feels in order to create jobs, there needs to be more resources, such as capital, and that as a community, African-Americans need to unify themselves and pool their resources.

“We need a vision. We need to start an economic development fund, which will give us capital to create jobs. We as a people need a bail out to become self-sufficient,” Muhammad said. She continued that when most African-Americans go to get loans, there is discrimination or the interest rates are too high to afford the payments, which keeps people from starting a business that would create those jobs. But if a bail out is given, she says that as a people, African-Americans will be able to create their own opportunities to end unemployment.

Wheatley agrees that it takes a unified commitment in dealing with the issue, but he also says it takes pooling resources and partnering and supporting organizations that are working to train and connect individuals with the resources needed to find jobs. For instance, programs such as the Hill District First Source Center and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh’s Employment Program are working to train and place individuals in jobs. Both have seen an increase in participation.

“Our main goal is making sure to connect individuals with job opportunities,” says Debra Tucker, vice president of Programs and Services for the Urban League. “We offer general employment services, such as job assessments, training and counseling based on one’s individual needs.”

Tucker said there have been individuals entering the workforce for the first time and a recent increase in individuals who had good jobs, but may have lost them to downsizing or restructuring.

The Urban League offers several programs to help individuals who are seeking a job. Programs like their Re-entry Management Program, which offers counseling and placement opportunities for men and women who were incarcerated and are looking to re-enter the workforce.

Wheatley believes there needs to be more programs like this for those who have done their time and are looking to become productive members of society. Often, once a person has paid their debt to society it is hard to get a job because of their record.

The Urban League also offers their Mature Workers Program, for those looking to enter or re-enter the workforce; and the Career Employment Program, which helps young adults, who are looking to obtain their G.E.D. or who already have one, but are looking to improve their skills. The program helps to prepare them for higher education or to enhance their job search skills, such as one’s resume and interview skills.

Like Muhammad, Wheatley has plans of holding a community forum and says that he is looking to work with anyone who is looking to solve the issue.

It has been shown that once employment comes up in a community, things such as blighted homes, vacant properties and in some cases, even crime goes down. No matter what the unemployment numbers are, it is evident that unemployment is a huge problem in the African-American community, and until every aspect is addressed the problem will continue to get worse.

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