Black Jobless Rates Worsened During Recession

African Americans face longer stretches of unemployment than whites

The Joint Economic Committee delivered sobering—yet unsurprising—statistics on black unemployment rates in a report titled “Understanding the Economy: Long-term Unemployment in the African American Community.”

The report, which breaks down the rates demographically by gender, age and length of time spent out of work, found that the current unemployment rate for blacks is more than six percentage points higher than the overall unemployment rate. Blacks who’ve earned four-year degrees, precisely so they could find better and more secure employment, are facing an unemployment rate of 8.2% compared to that of whites with a similar level of education at 4.5%.

Blacks are also experiencing longer periods of unemployment than the general population. Though they make up only 11.5% of the labor force, they account for more than 20% of the long-term unemployed and 22% of those unemployed for more than a year.

Margaret Simms, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, found the report to be “very useful because it combines information about different ways of looking at joblessness.”

But according to Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, those figures may not be accurate because based on current population statistics, they may not include people who have prison records, are hiding from creditors, or without stable home addresses.

“If anything, I think the report understated the case,” Baker said. “We’re going to be looking at very high unemployment rates long into the future. The government has to be prepared to take stronger steps.”

In testimony at a Congressional Black Caucus hearing Wednesday morning to address chronic unemployment among African Americans, Baker promoted the concept of work-sharing and public employment in such areas as weatherization, which doesn’t require a high level of skill for job entry and can help people develop skills that can help them move up the ladder.

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous stressed the need for federal investment in school maintenance and repair, public transportation, and the National Housing Trust Fund to create jobs that will also produce long-term benefits for communities.

Both the report and the hearing, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), who sits on the Joint Economic panel, highlight the need for legislation like the Local Jobs for America Act introduced last week.

“Such proposals are very important because we’re trying to target the resources and jobs in areas where you have double-digit unemployment and high poverty levels,” said Cummings.

He also is a major proponent of retraining so that African Americans in particular are prepared to enter industries where there’s the greatest demand for workers.

Damon Lester, president of the National Association of Minority Owned Automobile Dealers, recommended that the Department of Labor provide workforce development grants to retrain laid-off black autoworkers for other industry positions, such as a certified technician.

“On average, a certified technician in a Toyota/Lexus dealership earns more than $50,000. Opportunities such as these have not been widely known or marketed amongst minorities, “ he said.

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