Norman Jones, woke up last Friday, got dressed and went to the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DOES) for a job pre-screening session in hopes of landing employment that has eluded him since last year. Jones was not alone – more than 100 people also stood in line, all seeking employment.
On the same Friday that the District of Columbia residents were working to find work, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was releasing its monthly jobs report, a report that showed that Black employment for March stood at 14 percent, virtually unchanged from the 14.1 percent rate in February. The overall unemployment rate in March was 8.2 percent. It was 7.3 percent for Whites and 10.3 percent for Latinos.
The unemployment gap between Blacks and Whites has existed for more than 50 years. And even though a myriad of factors affect who gets hired and who doesn’t, the role that race plays in the process cannot be ignored.
“Blacks are still largely subject to separate and unequal neighborhoods and schools,” said Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute. “They still face discrimination in the labor market, our criminal justice policies still disproportionately impact Blacks beyond rates of offending.”
Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the Center of Labor Research and Education at the University of California-Berkeley, supports a novel approach to eliminate discriminatory hiring.
“You have to ask the question, ‘Who decides who gets hired?’” Pitts said. “For example, if a major food chain wants to develop in a community and public money is involved, you can require them to hire employees from that community through a third party.”
That third party would, in turn, require applicants to meet certain educational and training requirements. Under this scenario, once those requirements were met, the food chain employer would have to hire those applicants.
By eliminating the employer from the hiring process, it effectively takes away their ability to discriminate against applicants based on race, Pitts explained. He said,
“We have to find ways to empower people to address those issues.”
Although the Black employment rate is nearly twice that of Whites, there are gender variations among African-Americans as well. Black male unemployment peaked at 17.5 percent in June 2009, at the official end of the Great Recession, before falling to 15.4 percent in February of this year and to14.8 percent in March.
Meanwhile, unemployment among Black females became more vexing. It stood at 8.1 percent at the beginning of the recession in December 2007. By June 2009, at the end of the Great Recession, it had reached 12.7 percent. While Black male unemployment was inching down, the rate for Black females was increasing to 13 percent in January and 13.3 percent in March.
Why the disparity?
Pitts offers one possible explanation: “There were large amounts of layoffs in the public sector and because Black women are more likely to be employed in the public sector that could affect their rate.”
Austin of EPI said it will take more than spreading women throughout non-public sector jobs to reduce or eliminate the gender disparities.
He said, “We need public-sector jobs targeted to high-unemployment communities even after the national economy is fully recovered.”
Many unemployed Blacks, like Jones, 37, are worried that a college degree – he graduated from the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – and past job experience will not insulate them from a sluggish job market. Jones moved back in with his parents eight months ago to save money.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “It’s not fun at all.”