Unemployment dropping for all but Black folks

(NNPA)—The first Friday of every month is the time when we learn what is happening with the prior month’s employment. Many are excited that in a two month period the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 percent in November to 9.0 percent in January. Good news? Not really. Only 36,000 new jobs were created. The unemployment rate drop is mostly a function of people dropping out of the labor market.


More importantly for those who concern me, the Black unemployment has scarcely changed. So while the overall unemployment rate is down, the Black unemployment rate has held constant at 15.7 percent. The old adage of last hired, first fired holds true. African-Americans are not really participants in this so-called economic recovery.

If any other community had these recalcitrant rates we could expect a targeted program to improve or fix the matter. African-Americans, however, have been ignored by public policy, being relegated to the “suck it up” school of development. African-American workers have had no opportunity to experience this so-called recovery. We are out of luck, out of line, at the periphery of the employment situation.

So there are a group of Republicans that have come to Washington shooting for bear. They want to cut government spending. They think that their cuts will create jobs. But, there are no jobs, not for African-Americans, and few jobs for others. To be sure, employment creation is a lagging indicator, and we won’t see the real results of economic recovery for months after it has actually occurred.  At the same time, it is most discouraging to see unemployment rates drop while African-American unemployment rates stay high.

African-American workers have been sitting at the periphery of this economic recovery for more than three yeas. People want to call our world post-racial, but there is no post racialism in these high unemployment rates. Indeed, the fact that recovery does not trickle down means that President Obama must take time to look at what is happening with African-American workers.

Congressman Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., says that recovery funds need to be targeted to those communities that have the greatest burden of recession. Communities with more than 20 percent unemployment should get 10 percent of the recovery funds that are provided for the next 30 years. He calls it the 10-20-30 plan, an opportunity for specific communities to roar back from recession. I call it a good idea.

It’s not enough. It is to post racial to be post racial. It suggests that distressed communities are the only communities that need help.  It takes race away, when race is so much there, when African-Americans are sitting, like little children, with their noses to the glass wall of economic recovery. The data suggest that other communities are recovering. The reality is that the African-American community is not.

Here is how it shows up for me— students who are excellent, exceptional and qualified cannot find work because there is little work out there for them. They do what they can to participate in the economy using entrepreneurship to create income producing situations for themselves. Still, they want work that provides benefits—health insurance and sick leave, especially. These jobs just are not there. If they owe Bennett College a balance, they cannot pay it much as they want to. They can’t pay because they just aren’t earning the dollars. Yet accreditors will look at our college’s balances and say that there is a problem, that students failing to pay means that we have not done due diligence.

What diligence can we offer when the unemployment rate is so high? What dollars can we collect when the dollars are not there? Our nation’s high unemployment rate reverberates. People are struggling and this struggling is unaddressed.

Many will applaud the drop in the unemployment rate.  Who will remind us that the Black unemployment rate remains at a crisis-level high?

(Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women.)

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