Dr. Boyce Watkins on Black Unemployment

Courtesy of Black Voices

Black Unemployment Rate Increases 700% More than White

By Boyce Watkins, PhD on Sep 6th 2010 1:24PM

This weekend, I was on the radio with Rev. Jesse Jackson. He’d just completed a march in Detroit for jobs, peace and justice, only to find that his SUV was stolen upon arrival. But when I asked him if he was OK, his response was quite telling of the leader that he is: He simply said that the car doesn’t matter at all when there are so many people suffering across America.

Well, the nation-wide suffering for African Americans has just intensified with the recent unemployment data delivered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s most recent report showed that while white unemployment only went up from 8.6 percent to 8.7 percent, black unemployment went up from 15.6 percent to 16.3 percent. This increase is at a rate that is 700 percent higher than the increase for white Americans.

The numbers tell an interesting and sad story about the forgotten economic hardships being felt by black people all across America. First, black unemploymentis nearly double that of white Americans. While the rest of America finds itself screaming in pain over unemployment rates between eight and nine percent, black America is asked to remain silent about unemployment rates as high as 15 – 16 percent. While U.S. government officials are not acknowledging African American economic hardship, the United Nations is. As of April, the UN announced that it is investigating whether consistent black unemployment in America is a human rights violation.

Black male unemployment is shockingly high, rising from 16.7 percent to 17.3 percent. This compares to a rate increase of 8.8 percent to 8.9 percent for white males. In other words, black male unemployment is 94 percent higher than the rate for white men. Unfortunately, this has become the norm for the African American male.

Black women also watched their unemployment rate rise from 12.9 percent to 13.2 percent, while white women saw no increase at all. At this point, white females have the lowest unemployment rate of any demographic group. Black women have an unemployment rate that is roughly 85 percent higher than white females.

The worst group of all are black teenagers. Their unemployment rate already stood at a startling 40.6 percent last month. This month, it rose to 45.4 percent, which is not only the highest unemployment figure of any group, it is also 90 percent higher than the unemployment rate for white teenagers, which held steady with a modest increase from 23.5 percent to 23.8 percent. The high unemployment rate for African American teens is likely one of the causes for massive amounts of teen violence and persistently high rates of black incarceration. When kids don’t have jobs, they find something else to do. What they choose to do on their own is not always productive.

What’s so interesting about having a black president is that the presidency has made us feel uncomfortable as a community about asking that our specific issues be addressed. I am not sure how bad things have to get, how many black people have to be homeless or how many unemployment applications we must fill out before we can get our leaders in Washington to realize that while 9.6 percent unemployment is horrible for the nation, 16.3 percent unemployment in black America is absolutely devastating.

What’s worse about the recent black unemployment numbers is that they aren’t going to go away. When this recession ends, and white unemployment drops to four or five percent, black people will still have unemployment rates which match or exceed the rates that white Americans are experiencing today. But while white privilege gives other Americans the right to moan, groan and complain about eight or nine percent unemployment, black Americans will be considered to be trouble makers for speaking against numbers of the same magnitude. Rarely, if ever, do we see a greater indicator of racial economic inequality than this.

There was a time when black people were legally considered to be three-fifths of a person. Today, we have an economic version of the Three-Fifths Compromise, which says that it is an acceptable and comfortable outcome that white unemployment will never be more than three-fifths that of black Americans. As long as this disparity holds constant, our government officials don’t see a problem, and don’t expect us to see one either. In all of the talk about helping the nation out of this recession, almost never has any advisor in President Barack Obama’s economic cabinet even mentioned the idea of reducing the disparity between black and white unemployment. Their silence is both deafening and perplexing to the black people who put him in office.


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