African American Youth Joblessness and the “New Normal”

by Carl Bloice on October 26, 2010

It’s possible that I just didn’t see it, but one of the most significant and alarming statistic in the nation’s September employment report seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. So here it is. The unemployment rate for each of the major demographic groups remained about the same last month, some even declined a tad. However, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for African Americans between the ages of 16 and 19 reached 49 percent, up from 45.4 percent in August and 41.7 percent for the same period last year.

It used to be that when people concerned with the matter commented on the black teenage jobless rate, they would put in a line about half, or nearly half, of the young people were without work in major urban centers. Now it’s the case from Boston to Bakersfield. Is this the “new normal” we hear so much about?

Pointing to a somewhat different set of statistics, here is what David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research wrote October 8:

The economy lost 95,000 jobs in September – 77,000 of which were temporary Census positions – while the unemployment rate held at 9.6 percent. Including downward revisions in payroll employment for July and August, there are 110,000 fewer jobs than reported one month ago.

Though the overall rate of unemployment did not change in September, different populations were not similarly affected by employment changes. The employment-to-population ratio was unchanged at 58.5 percent. While white adults saw relatively little change in their EPOPs (-0.1 percentage points for men, 0.1 percentage points for women), the EPOP for black men aged 20 and over fell 0.5 percentage points in the month and 2.6 percentage points for African-American teens.

The fall in the latter is particularly striking as only 16.2 percent of black teens were employed as recently as May. Ten years ago, 29.5 percent of black teens were employed compared to 11.7 percent in September.

This cannot be considered acceptable. The Congress and the White House should be told that this is unacceptable. Those people out there trying to rally the “hip-hop vote” ought to take the lead in saying this situation cannot endure.

There is already far too much pain and economic insecurity in the African American community which has taken a big hit economically because of the system’s most recent crisis. If it remains almost impossible for a couple of generations of young women and men to earn a decent living, it is calamitous for black people and the country. They cannot become the personification of the “new normal.”

And we don’t need to hear anymore misleading claims that these young people have been “left behind by history,” victims of technology and globalization. Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke said the other day that the country’s current jobless level reflects the state of the economy, is not what some refer to as “structural” and that little of it can be traced to people having the wrong skills or being in the wrong location. This view was echoed last week by labor market expert Peter Diamond, recipient of this year’s Nobel Prize for Economics.

The New York Times said editorially last Sunday that as soon as the November election is over the President “needs to fight harder for big stimulus projects – in infrastructure or alternative energy. He has to keep pushing until Congress and the public understand that without more stimulus the best that can happen will be years of only limping along.” For these unemployed minority youth it’s much worse than limping along.

Last week, President Obama took questions from an audience of young people, in person and by way of Twitter, during a session streamed live on the Web. At one point a young black man complained that despite all the government recent spending “our unemployment rate still rises” and that even though he is a college graduate he’s having trouble finding a job. The President responded with his now stock answer: the jobs were lost before I was elected and the Administration kept the country out of a real depression. These kids know what a real depression feels like. It’s having empty pockets in a madly consumerist society. It’s being unable to plan for a family and things like having children and sending them to school.

The question is where do we go from here?

The President recently laid out a proposal for a moderate stimulus program involving a reasonable project to see to the country’s real infrastructure needs. But we didn’t hear much about it after that and the trifling Congress adjourned to go home and try to save their collective butts.

At the beginning of the year, the Economic Policy Institute projected that unemployment for African Americans would reach a 25-year high of 17.2 percent this year with the rates in five states exceeding 20 percent. Three quarters into the year it stands at 16.1 percent, up from 15.5 percent a year ago. “These sobering data show us that the nation must do more to address the ongoing human tragedy brought on by this recession,” EPI researcher Kai Filion commented at the time. “There is no reason why we should tolerate such outcomes – elected officials can and must put millions of Americans back to work with bold, targeted job creation policies.”

Among the consequences Filion predicted is a staggering poverty rate of 50 percent for African American children.

When the International Monetary Fund met in Washington on October 9th, its managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, issued a sobering warning. “We face the risk of a lost generation,” he said. “When you lose your job, your health is likely to be worse. When you lose your job, the education of your children is likely to be worse. When you lose your job, social stability is likely to be worse – which threatens democracy and even peace. So we shouldn’t fool ourselves. We are not out of the woods yet. And for the man in the street, a recovery without jobs doesn’t mean much.”

Carl Bloice is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. This piece first appeared at Black Commentator, and the L.A. Progressive.

Filed under: Archive