The latest report released last week by the Department of Labor confirmed what most of us already know—the economy stinks. What was more shocking and underreported on, was the gross inequity between white America and black America. According to the report, which looked at the American job market for the month of December, the overall unemployment rate finally dropped from the 9.8 percent where it has been hovering for months to 9.4 percent. This represents the lowest unemployment rate America has seen in nearly two years. Hardly a victory, especially when you consider that the unemployment rate only dropped because more and more people are just giving up and not trying to look for a job any longer. Even more troubling is the racial disparity that the job market has created. Among white people, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent. However, for African-Americans, the unemployment rate was 15.8 percent. Apparently this has become the new norm. African-American unemployment rate generally runs double the white unemployment rate and somehow this has become so accepted that it doesn’t even cause anyone to stop and wonder how we are failing. I am wondering, and so is Rev. Jesse Jackson.
"Can you imagine any other group at that level of unemployment and the media dismissing it as not important?" the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked during an interview last week. "These are the same areas that were targeted for foreclosure by the banks, through reverse redlining," Jackson said, referring to the way subprime lending operations preyed with particular dispatch on minority communities. "These are the same areas that have less access to transportation, which makes it nearly impossible to get to where the jobs are. You are structurally locked out of economic participation and growth."
When you look at underemployment, the crisis facing our nation becomes even more apparent. Underemployment counts jobless people along with those who are working part-time but seeking full-time work, or those who have given up the job hunt but are still willing to work. According to an analysis of government data by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, African-American underemployment rate was just under 25 percent last year while white American underemployment rate was about 15 percent. Early last year, at the worst of the recession, the black unemployment rate exceeded 16 percent, or 1 in 6. It is even scarier for young African-Americans—among black men between the ages 25 and 29, the unemployment rate was about 21 percent in December.
These aren’t numbers to dismiss or ignore. Just because African Americans have always had a higher unemployment rate does not make it acceptable. These startling figures represent an entire subset of our population that is still trapped in a great depression. Instead of throwing life preservers to help those that are drowning, we are taking away all floatation devices and leaving them on their own.