As the recession deepens, black men hit hardest

Even as the nation celebrates the first African-American man to become president, around the country the economic recession continues to hit black men the hardest. Unemployment has always disproportionately affected the African-American community, but black men are seeing staggering job losses and the crisis is expected to increase.

The Charlotte Observer reports:
In the last year, unemployment among black males increased at twice the rate of most other groups. Experts blame a range of factors, from education to discrimination - and say it's a dangerous trend that could lead to jumps in unemployment, poverty and crime.
The unemployment rate for black men was 11.9 percent in November 2008, almost twice that of white men, and up 4 percentage points from a year earlier.
A Black Depression

The current economic crisis waged a particularly severe attack on the Black middle-class during 2008 and the situation is only expected to worsen. News accounts are reporting that 2009 may be the year that more African Americans fell out of the middle class than any other time in our nation's past, with best estimates showing that African- American homeowners are two and a half times more likely to be in foreclosure than their white counterparts. This means more than a million African American homeowners will lose their home in the next four years.

Facing South reported earlier this week on a new study that shows that blacks today are already experiencing a silent economic depression that, in terms of unemployment, equals or exceeds the Great Depression of 1929. And among young Black males aged 16-19, the unemployment rate is 32.8%.

Black workers in turmoil

The economic downturn threatens high losses for black workers. Nationally, disproportionate numbers of black men hold jobs in manufacturing or construction, and those positions have been among the first cut in this recession, especially in Southern states, the Charlotte Observer reports.

This is accelerating an already steady decline in the once high-paying manufacturing sector for black workers. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates that the share of African-Americans working in manufacturing declined from 23.9 percent in 1979 to 9.8 percent in 2007, the highest drop of any group.

A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute points out that black workers make up a large share in the automotive industry, and these workers have been negatively affected by the auto industry crisis. African Americans earn much higher wages in auto industry jobs than in other parts of the economy, and the loss of these solid, middle-class jobs would be a devastating blow, according to the study.

Black workers have suffered not only from severe job loss, but also from the decreasing unionization rates. Black men have traditionally held the highest union rates in the nation. In 2005 some 2.1 million black workers held union jobs in America; African-American workers who belong to unions earn wages that are 12 percent higher than their non-union counterparts. But, the percentage of African-Americans who are either members of or represented by unions fell by half, from 31.7 percent of all Black workers in 1983 to 16 percent in 2006, reports the Louisiana Weekly.

Not a "post-racial" nation

Discrimination continues to impact black men in the job market. A recent study in the Journal of Political Economy shows that prejudice accounts for approximately one-quarter of the racial wage gap, costing a black worker up to $115,000 over a lifetime depending upon where he or she lives, according to study. Educational inequality, differences in workers' skill levels and other forms of discrimination likely account for the rest of the gap, the authors say.

The high rates of incarceration among black males continue to be an inhibiting factor to better employment as well. The racialized tough-on-crime legislation of the past two decades has not only filled America's jails disproportionately with black men, but it has also had a devastating economic impact on communities of color. Algernon Austin, director of the race, ethnicity and the economy program at the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, told the Charlotte Observer that the job market is tougher for black men with criminal records than on white men with criminal records- studies even show that white men with criminal records are as likely to be hired as black men without criminal records.

Black men in the South

Advocates are calling for policy responses to help Black males across the South as well. A recent report by the Foundation of the Mid South highlighted racial disparities in education, health care and wealth in black boys and men ages 16 to 44 in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. It found that black males are more likely to drop out of school, lack health insurance or die in a homicide when compared with their white counterparts. The report also found that only 9.6 percent of black men in the three states had earned a college degree, compared with 18.4 percent for white men.

The report authors see this disparity as a call to action for policymakers to find ways to ease the plight of black men across the South. Black poverty across the South has always been an issue. The mid-south region's poverty rate is 17.3 percent, about five percent higher than the national average, according to the report. African-Americans make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but in the mid-South, the population is 29 percent black. The highest percentage of African-Americans is in Mississippi, where they make up more than a third of the state's population.

The report also points out: In Louisiana and Mississippi, the average median net worth in nonwhite households was $5,100, which is 14 times less than that of their white peers, according to the report. In Mississippi, 46.9 percent of black males are uninsured, compared with 25.3 percent of white males. And, 23.5 percent of black males in the three-state region don't have a high school diploma compared to 16.4 percent for white males.