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Job losses hit black men hardest

Some 8 percent of black men in the US have lost their jobs since November 2007, according to a recent study.

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“You can call it a class thing, but I don’t think that’s what it is,” says Douglas Besharov, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland in College Park. “Some of it is long-term discrimination and lack of access to education, but much more in this recession it’s determined by which sector that’s suffering the most.”

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From November of 2007, the month before the official start of the recession, to February of 2009, “there was no net job loss among professionals or managers,” says Sum.

Contradicting media reports that job loss has been widespread in this recession, he adds: “All the job loss has been among blue-collar jobs – construction, manufacturing, and retail.”

These are the jobs black men have long sought, settling for high-school diplomas in order to get these relatively well paid posts, suggests Terry Getter, an unemployed accountant waiting in line at the Atlanta unemployment office. But they are now feeling the consequences of not continuing their education.

African-American women have fared better in the downturn, says Sum. That may be partly because of their higher levels of education. In a departure from the trends of the past two recessions, those who have lost their jobs in this one “overwhelmingly ... had 12 or less years of school,” he adds.

Correspondingly, his data suggest that, as of January, about 120 African-American women were employed for every 100 African-American men. “The current size of the overall gap in employment between black women and black men is historically unprecedented, and black Americans are the only group for whom the gender employment gap is in favor of women,” the report notes.

As a result, the onus for the community’s well-being has fallen primarily on women, adding more burdens to a group that, historically, has upheld the black family, says Sheri Parks, author of the upcoming book “Fierce Angels” about the role of strong black women in American culture.

Part of the reason, she says, is that black communities have historically protected young men and expected more of young women, particularly when it comes to schooling. “If you’re a black woman, you don’t have to convince someone that you’re strong and nurturing and able to do almost anything – it’s almost a brand,” says Ms. Parks. “The prevalent image of a black man is what we call hyper-masculine and often idealized, but not necessarily in the workplace.”

This means black women also tend to enter their job hunt with a greater sense of urgency, says Tim Ready, director of the Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

“Women are more likely to take whatever jobs are necessary because they end up being the primary caretakers for kids,” he says. “They have no choice.”

At a time when Mr. Obama’s election has encouraged a debate about what race means in modern America, the job-loss figures reveal enduring problems that remain unaddressed, say some.

“When we say ‘postracial,’ we focus a lot on ideas, attitudes, and identity and not on outcomes: jobs, wages, and those things,” says Steven Pitts, a policy analyst with the Center for Labor Research and Education in Berkeley, Calif. “It’s important to look at the question of how we are passing out resources, jobs, education, wages, and wealth. That’s how you begin your analysis on postrace.”