The Unemployment Story You Havent
Feature for CBTU By Dwight Kirk
When the Labor Department released the latest unemployment
figures, an explosive trend emerged but failed to grab any headlines
or be mentioned by any candidate campaigning for votes in the African
The Washington Post said the national unemployment
rate jumped from 6.1 percent in May to 6.4 percent in
June the highest level in 10 years, with 9.4 million people
unable to find work. But heres the story that the Washington
Post and the rest of the media ignored: the black unemployment rate
jumped or leaped or bounced whatever verb fits from
10.8 percent in May to 11.8 percent in June -- more than 3 times
the increase in the national rate.
Bottomline: As the jobless crisis has gotten worse
for all workers, the heaviest toll has been on black workers, millions
who are becoming nomads in a globalized job market. The June unemployment
report contained even more eye-opening news:
Nearly half of the 360,000 people who lost their jobs in June
were African Americans, even though black workers are only 11
percent of the civilian workforce.
workers suffered the highest job loss (172,000) of all races or
ethnic groups in June.
white unemployment inched up from 5.4 percent in May to 5.5 percent
in June, black unemployment, already in double digits, soared
from 10.8 percent to 11.8 percent in the same month (i.e., 10
times the increase in the white unemployment rate).
40 percent of black teenagers were unemployed in June, nearly
2 times the rate for white teens.
The long-term trends are even more daunting. In the
year since June 2002:
number of unemployed black workers has increased by nearly a quarter
of a million (214,000).
- The black
unemployment rate has increased four times faster than the rate
for white workers (1.2 percent versus .3 percent, respectively).
teenage unemployment has risen from 30 percent to 40 percent in
just one year (in what economists call a jobless economic recovery).
This statistical snapshot is a timely wake-up call
about several important trends:
(1)The current unemployment crisis is having a profoundly
unequal impact on different segments of the workforce.
(2) The job crisis is accelerating in the African
(3) Because of the sharp and substantial increase
in black unemployment, the jobless disparity between black and white
workers is growing significantly.
No doubt the precarious situation of black workers
is due to the Bush administrations failed economic policies
based on tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, trade laws that reward
companies that move jobs overseas, and the fiscal abandonment of
state and local governments that have been forced to slash programs
No doubt the Bush administration will stick with the
politics of mass distraction you know, invent a new threat
to national security to keep the public from focusing on
the mass misery and broken dreams piling up at the doorstep of the
No doubt the stubborn disparities of race, joblessness,
and fairness may not be
front-page news, but they do still exist and are getting worse,
Candidates on the campaign trail have lavishly bashed
Bush for the 3.1 million private sector jobs lost since he took
office. Yet, how many of them have dared to raise their voice against
the disproportionate hardship of vanishing jobs on black working
families and their communities? Those who seek black votes, while
trying to create the broadest possible appeal for their message,
must not shy away from acknowledging the growing disparity of hardship
among the unemployed.
Next month another job report probably will have more
bad news for working families. But it would be dangerous for those
still collecting paychecks -- or counting votes -- to get comfortable
with the tragedy of joblessness. It is becoming a tinderbox of frustration,
of lost pride, of lost income to pay for childcare, medical bills,
school clothes and college tuition. More ominously, it is becoming
a socially explosive issue, because a growing segment of the African
American community, especially black youth, feels permanently disconnected
from the economy and casually discarded by a president they didnt
What America needs at this crucial juncture is a recovery
plan based on job creation and massive retraining, not more tax
cuts for millionaires. However, because a rising tide does not lift
all boats, such a plan cannot be neutral about the continuing
significance of race in determining who collects a paycheck and
who is left standing in the unemployment line.
The final missing piece is a coherent urban policy
and the political will to reverse the deterioration of safe streets,
quality schools, affordable housing and health care, and jobs with
Until the Bush era ends, urban America must continue
to be impolite to those who would ignore our voices or write us
out of the headlines.
This article was written by Dwight Kirk, who is web
consultant to CBTU. It also has been published in African American
newspapers across the country.