Can Black men survive falling U.S. economy?By Charlene Muhammad
Western Region Correspondent | Last updated: Apr 10, 2009 - 3:01:56 AM
Hard times are costing Black males jobs, prospects for the future
(FinalCall.com) - A recent study indicates that of the major ethnic groups impacted by unemployment during the current U.S. recession, Black men have experienced the greatest job losses since the crisis officially began in November 2007.
“What's missing from national media coverage of this recession is plainly a great deal of dishonesty about who's losing their jobs. This is overwhelmingly a blue collar, retail sales, low level recession,” said Andrew Sum, professor of economics and director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass., which published the study.
“The Impacts of the 2007-2009 National Recession on Male Employment in the U.S. through January 2009; The Massive Concentration of Job Losses Among Males Especially Black Men and Blue Collar Workers” tracked employment losses in the recession across gender groups of workers overall, and in the four major ethnicities—Asian, Black, Hispanic and White.
The study found that:
•Males are 80 percent (3.1 million) of all people who have lost their jobs in America;
•Black male employment fell by 6.4 percent (482,000), compared to overall Black employment at almost 3 percent (463,000); and
•The unemployment gap between Black men and women is historically unprecedented with Blacks the only group where the gap favors women.
Primarily, Mr. Sum told The Final Call, this gap stems from differences in job types and fields, such as health care, education, social services and well-paying jobs, which are saturated with women and still growing. But if you are a Black man working in trucking, manufacturing, construction or warehousing, you are getting clobbered, the document's lead author said.
In fact, he said, through February, Black men who were employed a month before the recession started have lost their jobs at a rate five times greater than everybody combined, ethnicity and gender wise.
“Here we are as a country that was priding itself on the fact that it elected a Black American president of the United States and rightfully so. At the same time this is the greatest recession loss of jobs by Black men since the end of World War II. This has never happened before, yet nobody on national TV has stood up and said this recession has been catastrophic for Black men,” Mr. Sum said.
“This means we're in trouble,” said Lavar Young, director of the Newark Comprehensive Center for Fathers (Fatherhood Center), which helps men transition who have lost their jobs, homes, or are reentering the work force after incarceration. The Fatherhood Center provides mentoring, life skills, legal assistance, education and counseling classes.
According to Mr. Young, self-help and entrepreneurship is a sure route out of joblessness for Black men. “It's a low cost investment and many times a high reward. In Newark, we have a thriving market when it comes to folks selling things, especially when stores are going up on their prices. We just encourage the men who attend our programs to turn their skills when they were out doing negative things into something positive,” he told The Final Call.
For instance, he added, “One of our guys came to class selling socks, for $4-$5 a pack. It won't ease all your pains, and it's not a lot of money but it will help you over that hump,” at least through about six to eight months of training for a new skill.
According to the study, the demographics of job losers in the U.S. have important implications for the design and implementation of the programs to be funded under the economic stimulus package and work force development policies at the national, state and local levels.
For Mr. Sum, one way to reduce joblessness is to try to get all of the stimulus money distributed as soon as possible to get people back to work, and specifically target projects toward infrastructure, manufacturing, transportation and training money for youth jobs.
In addition, the Obama administration, and recipients of stimulus funds must guarantee public postings of all job openings generated by federal stimulus dollars on websites of one-stop centers.
Cedric Muhammad, CEO of CM Cap and the Eclectic Economist Blog at http://www.cedricmuhammad.com/, also advocates self-help to reduce unemployment among Black men, but their success, anybody's really, he said, is predicated on their ability to organize ideas, money, business and a loyal network of customers.
Mr. Muhammad believes that finding a niche and doing something for themselves is critically important for Black men because they practically have no other option. “In some states theymust employ themselves in cases where they have felony convictions, and are not able to obtain jobs in certain professions and industries.Those jobs where theymay qualify for employment—construction or manufacturingfor instance—are disappearing rapidly,” he said.
Whenever Black men can, they should pool their financial resources because what a struggling individual cannot do, a struggling group can do, whether it is friend-to-friend, family-to-family, or neighbor-to-neighbor, Mr. Muhammad continued. This can apply from so-called gangs to fraternities.
“The best guide and blueprint to building effective unity in business, and overcoming the distrust that cripples economic development,is a formula I recommend—combining the spiritual and moral insights of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan's Study Guides, Self-Improvement: The Basis For Community Development with the divineprinciples of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's Economic Blueprint laid out inhis bookMessage To The Black Man.This, supported by life skill, job skill, manhood and fatherhood training is all we need,” Mr. Muhammad said.
Dr. Algernon Austin, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy for the Economic Policy Institute, argued that looking at the unemployment rate does not capture the true picture of joblessness. For example, he said, the numbers are suppressed by various factors, such as the high Black male incarceration rate.
His goal is to get Black men and other disadvantaged racial minorities incorporated into the mainstream economy through programs and investments, and to promote success of small Black-owned businesses to help men overcome obstacles to hiring.
But solving the problem of putting Black men to work requires a sincere, national commitment on various levels. The government has to help invest in and develop Black communities, address discrimination in the labor market, address educational disadvantages, and be sure job creation reaches the Black community, Dr. Austin said. “The good news is that people are highly adaptable and the Black family has already transformed itself significantly,” he added.
Abdul Muhammad, a lead instructor at the Fatherhood Center, told The Final Call people should be concerned about the joblessness among Black men because it lends to the large number of single Black mothers who are head of households.
“Black men suffer the worst when it comes to health and nutrition and they're the first fired and last hired ... with our national program. What I'm finding outside of Newark is that Black men in all these cities are going through the same issues, which is the lack of employment, financial empowerment, and not being able to provide for themselves and live a conducive lifestyle,” he said.
As a result, Abdul Muhammad continued, the men feel frustrated and denigrated to a point where they give up, and children suffer when a man, unable to provide for his family, turns away from being a responsible parent.
Ultimately, Abdul Muhammad said, society must allow Black men to become engaged through civic participation and economic opportunity.
Otherwise, it will continue to produce anger, animosity and the horrific numbers of Black men entering the prison system, advocates warn.
“I can speak personally for myself because as most of these guys that enter our organization or Black men in general, I've sat where they're sitting because I've done time in state prison myself. I understand their pain and their frustration but I was just thankful and blessed due to the Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad to have the opportunity to learn how to utilize the Self-Improvement Program that he and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan have provided for us as a people,” Abdul Muhammad said.
Attorney George Garrow, executive director of Concerned Black Men, a Washington, D.C.-based national organization, which helps provide positive Black role models for youth, said that although Black male job rates are bleak right now, this is an opportunity for them to reinvent themselves. Some things that might have seemed risky in the past may not be now because the country is not doing well and people are more receptive to new ideas, he said.
Atty. Garrow cautioned Black men against becoming frozen and lapsing into inaction.
“We make assumptions that since the economy is tough, there's no way to get into college to work on an associate degree or get into a training program, but that's not necessarily true. This is an opportunity to improve your skills so as the economy rebounds, you're in the best position than say two-years-ago,” he said.