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Blacks Miss Out as Jobs Rebound in New York City

Black unemployment
Black unemployment is the highest in in the U.S.

For months now, New York officials have been highlighting how the city has regained all the jobs lost during the long recession and then some. But by several measures, the city’s recovery has left Black New Yorkers behind.

More than half of all of African-Americans and other non-Hispanic Blacks in the city who were old enough to work had no job at all this year, according to an analysis of employment data compiled by the federal Labor Department. And when Black New Yorkers lose their jobs, they spend a full year, on average, trying to find new jobs — far longer than New Yorkers of other races.

Nationally, the employment outlook for Blacks has begun to brighten: there were about one million more Black Americans with jobs in May than there were a year earlier, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that is not the case in New York City, where the decline in employment since the recession began there, in 2008, has been much steeper for Blacks than for White or Hispanic residents, said James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research group.

One problem, said David R. Jones, the president and chief executive of the Community Service Society of New York, is that Blacks were overrepresented in fields that suffered the most in the downturn, including government agencies, construction and manufacturing.

“It’s being in the wrong place in the economy, so the recovery is not trickling down to these workers,” Mr. Jones said.

Kevin Starkes, 53, who is Black and lives in the South Bronx, said he had been trying for about 10 weeks to find work as an accountant.

“Employers are getting more for less,” said Mr. Starkes, who was at a Workforce1 Career Center in Harlem on Wednesday. “People who used to get a job with a bachelor’s degree now need a master’s. I just think that’s the state of the economy right now.”

Mr. Jones said he was also troubled by the inability of less-skilled and less-educated workers to find jobs for long periods. For example, he said, his agency, which provides services to poor and low-income New Yorkers, found that about half of the people holding jobs as security guards had bachelor’s degrees or had attended college. That was up from about 26 percent six years ago, he said.

“The wage didn’t go up,” Mr. Jones said. “This is a low-wage job. It pays $10 an hour with no health insurance.”

The dim prospects have caused the number of Blacks in the city characterized by the Labor Department as “discouraged workers” — those who have given up looking for jobs after long-term unemployment — to triple since 2008, before the recession hit, the numbers show.

Four years ago, there were about the same number of discouraged Blacks and Whites in the city. But since then, the number of discouraged Black workers has grown to almost 40,000, from about 13,000, while the number of discouraged Whites increased to about 22,000, from about 12,000.

Latoya Ingram, 33, who lives in Harlem, said she had been looking for full-time work since 2009. In that time, she said, she had sent off more than 1,000 copies of her résumé.

Unlike some other unemployed New Yorkers interviewed, Ms. Ingram, who is Black and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Syracuse University in 2001, said she believed her race was a factor in her inability to land a job.

“I could be wrong, but I’ve had interviews, and they seem really, really interested,” she said.

“Then they see me in person and they’re not that interested,” added Ms. Ingram, who has been collecting $215 a week in unemployment benefits. “I think it’s a combination of being Black and overweight: they think you are lazy.”

According to Dr. Parrott’s analysis of the federal data, fewer than half — 49.2 percent — of all Black women of working age in the city had jobs in the year that ended in May. That was about the same rate for Black men in the same period, as well as in the first four months of 2012.

That less-than-half measure in a statistic known as the employment-to-population ratio covers all Black New Yorkers, whether they are seeking work or not. It is down from 55 percent in the 12 months that ended in May 2008, when the city’s economy was still in high gear, Dr. Parrott found. Nationally, about 53 percent of all Blacks and 60 percent of Whites are working.

Not all economists are convinced that Blacks are lagging as far behind in the recovery as Dr. Parrott’s numbers indicate. But they agree that the most likely cause of any disparity is the type of businesses that are growing and those that are cutting back.

Frank Braconi, chief economist for the city comptroller’s office, pointed out that a lot of the job gains in the city had come in professional and business services, like law and accounting, fields in which Blacks tended to be underrepresented.

“African-Americans in New York City basically inhabit the middle market in the labor force in terms of wages and education, not the low end,” Dr. Braconi said. “And the middle market has been weak.”

Dr. Braconi and other economists have been puzzling over the recent divergence in the results of the two surveys the Labor Department conducts each month. Employers have been reporting healthy increases to their payrolls all year, prompting some economists to call the current rate of hiring to be unprecedented and city officials to pronounce the local economy to be rebounding faster and stronger than the nation’s.

But the monthly surveys of city residents have produced a persistently high unemployment rate for the city. It rose to 9.7 percent in May, not far off the 10 percent level at which it peaked during the recession.

Wayne Nesmith, 45, a Bronx resident who is African-American, is already trying to head off unemployment when the financing runs out for his job as a clinical associate at the Lander Center for Educational Research of Touro College. He said he found the job market to be “pretty adverse,” even though he had a degree in economics from the City University of New York and two master’s degrees.

“I definitely believe it is more adverse for African-Americans,” Mr. Nesmith said. But, he added, “You don’t give up, and you don’t give in.”

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