The headline caught my attention: The black middle class lost virtually all of their economic gains of the last 30 years in just the past few years of this recent recession. Is that possible? Could three decades of gains be wiped away in a tenth of that time?
In a report by the National Urban League, The State of Black America, it shows how much the recession has battered African-American economic stability.
Consider this. As the economy slowly improved last year, the unemployment rate fell for both whites and Latinos.
But at the end of the year the black unemployment rate was 15.8%, exactly where it started out 2011, according to the government’sDecember jobs report. That’s a sharp contrast to the white unemployment rate, which fell to 7.5% that same month.
Unfortunately, this broad trend is nothing new, according to William Rogers III, Ph.D., chief economist with the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. He says the black unemployment rate has been roughly double that of whites since the government started tracking the figures in 1972.
Rodgers attributes this trend to massive government job cuts during the year.
“Minorities and women are heavily concentrated in public sector jobs,” he told CNNMoney. “With these major cuts we’re seeing in public employment, you’re going to see minorities pushed out of these jobs.”
Overall, blacks accounted for only 9% of the nation’s job gains during the year, even though they make up 12% of the civilian population, according to the Department of Labor.
However, there is some more recent good news to report. Last month the unemployment rate for blacks fell more than two percentage points, to its lowest level since March 2009. The drop has puzzled some economists, who say it is simply too early to tell whether it’s a trend or a blip.
But even at 13.6% for January, the unemployment rate for blacks is still far higher than the rate for other racial and ethnic groups, as well as the nation as a whole.
“The larger story doesn’t change,” Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, also told CNNMoney. ”Blacks have been hit harder by the downturn and its aftermath.”
“The larger story doesn’t change. Blacks have been hit harder by the downturn and its aftermath.”
Dr. Rogers, who is also a Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers, says he sees the income inequality gap growing wider.
In a 27-page paper entitled Future Work 2.0: Life After The Great Recession, he writes: “Just as during the two previous slowdowns, today’s Republican and conservative Democratic budget priorities and the use of personal responsibility to argue why people are not successful undermines the middle class’ contributions to economic growth and social cohesion. If implemented, their proposed policy framework and cuts will make it difficult for many Americans to recover from today’s pothole recovery. In fact, their cuts will have jarring effects that will be felt well into the future.”
True? Or not? Agree? Disagree? Are U.S. policy makers creating another deficit; a human priorities deficit as Dr. Rogers contends? What is the role of government in all this? Should we invest at greater levels to sustain and grow our labor productivity? Can the staffing industry play a role?
The National Urban League says education is the only way we can close the unemployment chasm and income inequality between blacks and whites. The civil rights organization has intensified its focus on education as a pathway to employment opportunities, heightening efforts to help mature workers, as well as those on the other end in middle school and high school.
The National Urban League says education is the only way we can close the unemployment and income inequality between blacks and whites.
In addition, the NUL last month released their 8-point Plan to Educate, Employ and Empower, calling for greater attempts to address inequality first in the nation’s educational system.
The report says: Education, at its core, is economic readiness. Job training, by its very definition, is education in its most practical sense. The two cannot and must not be viewed separately. A broken national system of education will continue to yield a broken economy, built upon broken communities and broken lives.
The National Urban League 8-Point Plan includes:
- Fair and equitable school funding for all
- Robust early childhood education for each child
- Strengthening high schools and re-engaging students to prevent dropouts
- Robust STEM focused curriculum and programs
- Qualified, effective and diverse teachers
- Strategic workforce development: targeting Americans most in need
- New job training models coupled with job placement
- Improving and integrating current data systems
Finally, Professor Rogers says, “To improve the chances of broad-based prosperity returning, Americans must reinvigorate their investment in education and training, especially for low-income and minority children. Americans must update their cities’ infrastructures, parks, and community centers, and strengthen their social safety nets.”
And of course pretty much the opposite is happening all across America. Now it’s your turn though. Thoughts? Plans? Alternative courses of action?