The Unemployment Story You Haven’t Heard
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 American community.

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 here’s 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.

  • Black workers suffered the highest job loss (172,000) of all races or ethnic groups in June.

  • While 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).

  • Meanwhile, 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:

  • The 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).

  • Black 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 American community.

(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 administration’s 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 and payrolls.

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 White House.

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, not better.

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 didn’t even elect.

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 livable wages.

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.