Racial jobs crisis

Posted: 6 July 2011 in Uncategorized
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The United States is in the midst of a jobs crisis, with an official jobless rate over 9 percent and almost 14 million people unemployed. And it faces a racial jobs crisis, since the unemployment rate for blacks (16.2 percent) is more than twice that of whites (8 percent).

The rate for black men is even higher: 17.5 percent (which is up .5 percent from a year ago).

The question is, what explains the racial jobs crisis? According to Andy Kroll, the phenomenon of last-hired, first-fired explains may explain “the soaring numbers of unemployed African Americans, but not the yawning chasm between the black and white employment rates.”

It’s a problem that spans generations, goes remarkably unnoticed, and condemns millions of black Americans to a life of scraping by. That unerring, unchanging gap between white and black employment figures goes back at least 60 years. It should be a scandal, but whether on Capitol Hill or in the media it gets remarkably little attention. Ever.

The unemployment lines run through history like a pair of train tracks. Since the 1940s, the jobless rate for blacks in America has held remarkably, if grimly, steady at twice the rate for whites. The question of why has vexed and divided economists, historians, and sociologists for nearly as long.

Here’s what the gap looks like from 1950 to 2005:


Kroll’s view is that the gap persists because of two major factors: high incarceration rates for black men and continuing racial discrimination. The findings of recent experimentsby sociologist Devah Pager and others

proved a powerful antidote to the growing notion, mostly in conservative circles, that discrimination was an illusion and racism long eradicated. In The Content of Our Character (1991), Shelby Steele argued that racial discrimination no longer held black men or women back from the jobs they wanted; the problem was in their heads. Dinesh D’Souza, a first-generation immigrant of Indian descent, published The End of Racism in 1995, similarly claiming racial discrimination had little to do with the plight of black America.

Not so, insist Pager, Darity, Harvard’s Bruce Western, and other academics using real data with an unavoidable message: racism is alive and well. It leads to endemic, deeply embedded patterns of discrimination whose harmful impact has barely changed in 60 years. And it cannot be ignored. As the old African-American adage puts it, “You’ve got to work twice as hard to get half as far as a black person in white America.”

Notwithstanding Obama’s election, racism persists in America. And we can’t say there’s a real economic recovery until the jobs crisis—the overall jobs crisis and the racial jobs crisis—are solved.

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