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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The Obama administration – which is, after all, led by an African-American man – is hardly oblivious to lingering racial bias in the workplace or soaring black male unemployment. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, in a phone interview, says she has beefed up her department's investigative division, which deals with workplace bias and other illegal practices. "We have almost doubled and tripled investigations," says Ms. Solis, compared with 2008 levels.Skip to next paragraph
She outlines some Labor Department efforts to help connect unemployed African-Americans with better jobs:
•Job Corps, an education and training program for young people. Some 78 percent of people who complete the program land a job in fewer than nine months, Solis says.
•A pilot program for military veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It sets aside 300 slots for veterans at Job Corps centers in Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri that serve large minority populations.
•A partnership with the Department of Justice to provide job and mental-health counseling to federal and state inmates before they are released. "Once [former convicts] get hired, companies find they are some of the most loyal employees," says Solis.
•A push to give federal incentives to companies that scale back employees' hours rather than lay off workers. The administration backs such "work share" legislation, saying it preserves jobs and opens up more job opportunities, including those for black men.
In Congress, meanwhile, black lawmakers are "moderately" optimistic about a bill that would funnel US grant money to parts of the country that have seen 30 years of high poverty levels. US grantmaking agencies would target 20 percent of such funds to those areas, says Cleaver. Key Republicans with whom he has met have no objection to the legislation, he says. "There are about 80 congressional districts where there are such areas," he says.
Still, these days Congress is cutting more programs than it is adding. And it has yet to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, which sends money to states, cities, and counties for job training and counseling.
Frustrated by Washington's slow pace at addressing job creation, the Congressional Black Caucus plans to bring job fairs to five cities – Cleveland, Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, and Los Angeles – starting Aug. 8. It has lined up companies to attend and hopes to see 10,000 workers hired as a result. "Realizing [that the US in June] only created 18,000 new jobs, this is a pretty big number," says Cleaver.
•Patrick Wall in New York contributed to this report.