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Crisis grows for young, Black men, but have we had enough?

By Starla Muhammad -Assistant Editor- | Last updated: Jan 30, 2014 - 9:38:17 AM

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Coca-Cola employee Farrah Deonarine of Weston, Fla., right, passes out forms at a jobs fair hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus in Miami, Aug. 23, 2011. The fair is aimed at lowering the especially high rate of unemployment in the Black community. Photo: AP Wide World photos

CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - Why are young, Black men not finding jobs or getting hired? More importantly, what if anything will be done about it and does anybody care? U.S. unemployment rates decreased the end of last year. But, for Black male teens, data and trends indicate an ever growing crisis.

The overall unemployment rate in the country dipped to 6.7 percent in December, the lowest for 2013, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. But for Black teens, ages 16-19 it remained at an abysmal seasonally adjusted rate of 35.5 percent.

Staggering stats

For Chicago, the city with the third largest U.S. population and second largest number of Blacks, the outlook is bleaker. The ‘Windy City’ has the dubious distinction of reporting 92 percent of all Black male teens; ages 16-19 were jobless in 2012. Chicago Alternative Schools Network released a 14-page report mid-January that laid out the grim statistics.

The overall number of employed Black teens went from 58,281 in 2006 to 55,697 in 2012, Jack Wuest, executive director of Alternative Schools Network told The Final Call. For Black male teens, it fell from 27,891 to 26,493 for the same time period he said. These young men face an ongoing battle across the country but those in Chicago have the most depressed state of employment with rates that have continued to drop each year noted the report. If they are poor, the news is even worse.  

“For Black males $20,000 and under income, it was 4.5 percent which means 95 percent were jobless, and that’s for the entire year (2012),” said Mr. Wuest. Figures for the report were compiled from 2012 Community Survey results from the U.S. Census and tabulated by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

Phillip Jackson of the Chicago-based Black Star Project was not surprised at the numbers. Black boys are in school, but a failing educational system that does not adequately prepare them with skills and high dropout rates have resulted in violence and Black communities becoming “economic wastelands,” he pointed out.

The national high school graduation rate for Black male students was 52 percent compared to 78 percent for White, non-Latino males in 2009-2010, according to the The Urgency of Now: The 2012 Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males. In Illinois, the number was 47 percent for Black males. Young, Black men were suspended or expelled from school at a disproportionately higher rate than their White counterparts, often for similar infractions or minor disciplinary issues. Suspended students are more likely to drop out or come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Suspensions then become the gateway to the “school to prison pipeline”.

On Jan. 8, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan rolled out the Obama administration’s recommendations for new “nondiscriminatory” school discipline policies. What immediate or long term impact means for Black male students’ is not known.

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Right now, choices for young, Black men are limited said Mr. Jackson, whose organization provides educational and training programs for Black youth, including academic tutoring. There is nothing new or startling about the 92 percent unemployment rate of Chicago’s Black male teens he added.

Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, noted psychologist and author, said only 12 percent of Black boys are on grade level. Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund said over 80 percent cannot read on grade level. There is a direct relationship between literacy and the ability to get a job said Mr. Jackson.

Black boys are not being educated in schools for economics or academics, but for self-destruction he warned.

Varying reports on the status of young, Black men spark conversations, symposiums, conferences and panel discussions, but where are the results? 

They are presented with limited options said Mr. Jackson. “They don’t have the option of college, military or decent paying jobs. Their option becomes, ‘how do I make money illegally.’”

The question has to be raised, is this by design? asked Mr. Jackson. “In order to get to this level of dis-functionality, it almost has to be intentional,” he added.

Vanishing Black infrastructure

Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation on the city’s Southwest Side said disinvestment in Black community infrastructure over the past 50 years has led to current conditions young men are facing. He calls it an “almost strategic” disinvestment. His group partners with local public and private partners in development projects to improve and invest in the neighborhood.

“When we were younger, there were a lot more service oriented employment opportunities for young adults,” he said. But today, huge losses in commercial and business districts happened when major retailers moved out. Private sector businesses turned their back on Chicago’s Black communities.

There is also competition from the older work force who need jobs young people typically could get he told The Final Call.

Henry L. English, President and CEO of the Black United Fund of Illinois agreed. He said disparities between Blacks and Whites is partly because White teens typically have more businesses in their communities and have a better chance of landing a job.

“They’re not really competing with the seniors. Some of them are but not many. They’re not competing with some of the adults so there are some opportunities there. There’s just not enough opportunities for our young people in our own communities,” added Mr. English.

Founded in 1985 Black United Fund of Illinois offers assistance, programs and support services to young people and adults statewide.

When larger merchants left, smaller stores and businesses were left behind or moved in. They were not owned by Blacks.

“Typically when you talk, Korean and Arab-owned store merchants, they do not hire from the community. They don’t trust folks in our community. If you’ve been in stores, they’ll sit on ladders the minute you open the door. In some cases, I’ve experienced it; they want you to put the money on the counter. They don’t want to touch it coming out of your hand,” said Mr. Nelson.

These businesses, highly visible in Chicago’s Black communities are what the private sector now looks like.

Around the country, in already underfunded, sub-par public schools systems where most young, Black boys are educated, more schools are shutting down. Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel ordered the closing of nearly 50 Chicago Public Schools last year, impacting 30,000 students, 90 percent of them Black.

 “There is focus on a continuing effort to turn away providing necessary resources and it’s pretty clear when you close the numbers of schools that you close and you look at the areas that they’re closed in,” added Mr. Nelson.

Black community controls solution

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the estimated 10.6 million Blacks under 18 in the U.S., nearly 51 percent are male. In Chicago of the 230,495 Blacks under 18, 50 percent are male. So what is the solution?

The political sector has to step up using what leverage they have in giving money to faith-based organizations for employment opportunities for Black youth said Mr. Nelson. People must push politicians they elect to support their communities and stop continuing to vote  for those that do not.

The low-skill, low wage jobs offered, are in the outskirts of the Chicago metro areas with little to no available transportation to those areas. Blacks must have their own businesses and initiate their own business development, said Mr. Nelson.

“So if Carlos Nelson from 79th St. has a business, it’s going to grow on the strength of folks from the community that I’m going to employ. It’s going to grow from banks in the community that I’m going to put my deposits in. We’ve got some strong leaders in our community. If we focus on creating our own in our communities in which we’re able to hire and retain our own, then we dig our own selves out of these holes.”

The public and private sector can help agreed Mr. English. “But the most important question is what can we do to provide jobs for our young people ourselves?” he asked.

Corporations and politicians certainly have a responsibility, but it is up to the Black community to initiate job creation based on the assets they own in the community. Blacks must look at what they have and not what they don’t have, he explained.

“I’m a firm believer in do for self and then reach out and ask for help,” Mr. English told The Final Call

Clergy, civil rights groups working collectively with the Black community is a start, said Mr. Jackson. But, he added, the typical political and economic solutions offered today won’t work. He said the Do for Self program of Nation of Islam patriarch, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad which among many practical principles, teaches and trains Black men to be entrepreneurs, industrious and landowners is what is needed today.

“We’re going to have to go back to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad on this one. We’re going to have to do for self. There is no one from Washington, D.C. who’s going to ride into our community and save us.”

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