Black workers at a disadvantage

Marketplace Staff Jul 2, 2010

Black workers at a disadvantage

Marketplace Staff Jul 2, 2010


Tess Vigeland: So the overall unemployment numbers aren’t pretty. But the compete picture is in some ways, well, is incomplete. When you break down these numbers by race, an even worse situation emerges for African Americans. U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research released its first Black Employment and Unemployment Index today. Steven Pitts is a labor policy specialist there and joins us for a look at the results. Welcome to the program.

Steven Pitts: How you doing?

Vigeland: Very well, thank you. What was the unemployment situation for black Americans before the recession and how has that changed, including the latest figures out today?

Pitts: The last month’s reports were 15.4 percent for African Americans, and that’s virtually unchanged from the rate of 15.5 percent in May. If you compare it to what was happening at the beginning of the recession, December of 2007, and the rates are 9.0. So we see an increase by a good six percentage points.

Vigeland: And again, just to point out the obvious, that is much, much higher than the overall unemployment rate.

Pitts: Yes it is. You see roughly, consistently for the last four decades, a ratio of roughly 2:1 between black and white unemployment rates.

Vigeland: And within the African community, obviously, there are still more categories: Male, female, younger workers, older workers. How do those compare?

Pitts: Well, if you look at black women, the rates for black women last month were 11.8 percent. And that fell slightly from a rate of 12.4 percent in May. For men, this past month, they’re at 17.4 percent, a slight increase from 17.1 percent. For teens, the numbers were extremely high, kind of horrific. Overall, it’s a slight increase from 38 percent in May to 39.9 percent in June. What you saw, though, was for black male teens it rose to 43.2 percent.

Vigeland: Forty-three percent!

Pitts: It’s huge. One thing to keep in mind, from month to month you see very volatile numbers. But still, these are very, very, very high numbers, and portend a very serious problem down the road.

Vigeland: And presumably it’s going to take longer to get out of that situation, even then the general population, then?

Pitts: Well, take longer, but also take some direct action as well. There’s a tendency simply kind of want to wave our hands and hope things get better. And as I’ve said, we’ve seen for the last 50 years, roughly a consistent ratio of black-to-white unemployment of 2:1.

Vigeland: Then what would your recommendations be for specific programs targeted to this community?

Pitts: First thing, gotta stabilize the economy, which means a second and larger stimulus package. It’s also important to make sure that those attempts to create jobs focus on distressed communities in particular. In addition, we need to make sure we have explicit attempts to fight racial discrimination. We find consistently that when blacks go into the labor market we find them at a disadvantage as well.

Vigeland: Steven Pitts is a labor policy specialist at the University of California at Berkeley. Thanks so much for your time today.

Pitts: Thank you.

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