Most news reports focus on the unemployment rate, which is questionable in its veracity, since it does not calculate individuals who are not actively seeking employment. A more appropriate figure to gauge economic welfare is the employment rate. A recent article stated that the employment rate for African-Americans is at a record low. For African-American males its down to 56.9% and the across the board (for men and women) it is down to 51.5%. Conversely for whites it's 68.1% and 59.5%. There is no debate that it is economically and politically unsustainable to have such a large segment of society not contribute to the productive economy. Commentators of all political persuasions are in agreement that job creation must be a priority. But, beyond that, there is little discussion on how we as a nation should approach the pathologically low employment rate.
Few politicians are willing to rub salt in the wounds of a growing number of voters by telling them the painful truth that they will either have to develop skills that the job market demands or lower their expectations and "do the jobs that Americans won't do." And fewer are willing to expedite this change by reducing welfare and unemployment benefits for able bodied workers. And with immigration policy stuck in autopilot for decades, there is little chance that it will be adjusted to address drastic changes in the supply and demand for labor. To do so would require the implementation of tough immigration enforcement measures, something that (outside of republican strongholds) few politicians are willing to undertake, out of the fear of alienating their perceived constituency. The reason I use the qualifier "perceived," is because (according to a Zogby Poll) a surprising number of Hispanics diverge from the progressive narrative of immigration: only 15% believe that immigration levels should be increased to fill unskilled positions, whereas 65% believe that there are plenty of Americans willing to do unskilled jobs and 52% believe that enforcement measures should be enacted to encourage undocumented immigrants to return to their nations of origin. Either way, it is unthinkable that we maintain the status quo in the face of declining employment rates and a surging national debt.
Tue May 10, 2011
Employment rate for black men at record low
By Zachary Roth
If the election of America's first African-American president was expected to give blacks an economic boost, it hasn't emerged yet. Indeed, the percentage of African-American men with a job has dropped to its lowest level since records began in 1972, according to the government's monthly jobs report released last week.
Even as the economy added a better-than-expected 244,000 jobs, the percentage of black males over 20 who are currently employed dropped slightly to 56.9, the Labor Department's April report shows. For whites, the equivalent figure is 68.1 percent.
Before this recession, the percentage of black adult men with a job had never dropped below 60 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.
And among blacks, it's not just men who are suffering. Just 51.5 percent of African-Americans across the board--compared to 59.5 percent of whites--have a job, the numbers show. That's the lowest level for blacks since 1984. (That group includes 16- to 19-year-olds, who are employed at a far lower rate than their elders.)
These employment rates are calculated differently from the top-line unemployment rate, which includes only those actively looking for work, and inched back up last month to 9 percent.
Heather Boushey, an economist with the liberal Center for American Progress, told The Lookout it's not just African-Americans who have been hit particularly hard. It's also other traditionally struggling groups, such as ex-offenders and those without a college degree.
"Anyone who would be last on an employer's list to get a job is really in bad shape" in the current downturn, Boushey said.
And employers' hiring practices may be making the problem worse. As we've reported, online job listings telling the unemployed not to apply have proliferated in recent years. The federal government is currently probing whether such listings illegally discriminate against African Americans, who are disproportionately likely to be among the jobless.
Nonetheless, much of the media has focused on the travails of educated white men--still a comparatively flourishing group--during the downturn.
(Faye McWilliams Pearson, a volunteer at Miami's Pass-It-On Ministries, left, works with Douglas Willock, center and Stephen Smith, both unemployed, giving them information about job fairs and a box of food that will last a week: J Pat Carter/AP)