Recovering US job market is leaving black men behind
The unemployment rate for black men stands at 17 percent, more than double that of white men. An education gap, criminal records, and racial bias all contribute to problems in the job market, experts say. What type of intervention would help?
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Nate Robinson of Philadelphia lost his job to the recession – and he's been struggling ever since. He was selling cars at a General Motors dealership that closed in 2009 when the auto giant entered bankruptcy and went through a restructuring.Skip to next paragraph
"When I got hired, the [dealership's] manager said, 'You are going to help put GM back on the map,' " he recalls. "After they went out of business, it was kind of hard to get back into it."
While he looks for work – sometimes finding temp jobs – Mr. Robinson tries to survive on welfare. An inability to find permanent work led to personal problems and substance abuse, but for the past nine months he has been drug-free, he says.
Unemployment has pushed him out of the middle class and into poverty: The welfare checks total $102.50 every two weeks. "So I have no money in my pocket," he says. "But I'm not complaining. I know God has something out there for me."
Robinson now bemoans the fact that he never went to college.
The 'education gap'
The education gap is what stands out to John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C. It makes black men more vulnerable to job loss, he says. "We know the unemployment rate for college graduates is 4.5 percent," says Mr. Silvia. "A lot of black men do not have a college degree, and because of the changing nature of the workforce – oriented more toward education, finance, and IT [information technology] – they don't fit into the jobs that are available."
The disparity in college education between black men and other prospective hires has persisted for the past 10 years and is especially glaring in the sciences. "African-Americans are incredibly underrepresented in these fields," says Betsey Stevenson, a Labor Department economist. Only 3 percent of black men work in professional, scientific, and technical services, where job growth is occurring, according to government figures.
Math and science were never his strong suits, says Craig James of Philadelphia, who is looking for work. But he envisions himself going back to school, perhaps for computer courses, once he lands a job. He graduated from high school three years ago. The main impediment to continuing his education now is that he is a single parent of a young son.
"I know you've got to learn to use technology," says Mr. James, who was laid off last year from a job in the security industry because, he acknowledges, he "messed up" by not following all company rules and by arriving late to work. His last job was talking to students about the value of an education for the nonprofit group Mothers In Charge. The group scaled back when some of its funding from the Obama stimulus package ran out.
Now, with 3-year-old Zakia to care for, James says he has become more responsible. "My son made me stronger," says James, who lives with his parents and Zakia in North Philadelphia. He's looking for work but says he is frustrated that he has had no callbacks.