VOICES: The jobless crisis of young blacks is now Obama's crisis

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media

The bad news is that the more than one out of three young blacks out ofwork matches the figure for joblessness at the peak of the 1930s GreatDepression. The worse news is that the jobless figure for young blacks,especially young black males, is not much different from what it waseven before the economic meltdown. During the Clinton era economicboom, the unemployment rate for young black males was double -- and insome parts of the country -- triple that of white males.

Two years ago, when the job crisis among young blacks was marginallyless severe than the present, a stunned Congressional Black Caucus andHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi reflexively blamed President GeorgeBush. They claimed that his fiscal and economic policies have resultedin the loss of millions of jobs during his years in office. Theydemanded that he radically increase funding for job training programsand provide more tax incentives for the working poor. Bush did none ofthese things. Neither did Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus.They did not vigorously push for a crisis job training and creationprogram for young black males. The crisis continued to mount. Bush isnot in office. Pelosi and the Democrats have a tight lock on Congress,and Obama is in the White House.

The bitter new reality is that the job crisis is not Bush's crisis.It's Obama's. This requires a candid look at why so many young blacksare unemployed and why they have stayed unemployed so long even whentimes were relatively good. State and federal cutbacks in job trainingand skills programs, the brutal competition for low- and semi-skilledservice and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of manyemployers to hire those with criminal records have been prime culpritsin driving the numbers higher and higher. The high number ofmiserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemploymentcrisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples.These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidlyevolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the publicsector and the business world of the 21st Century.

There's an even bigger reason for the stubbornly high numbers that defyreason in the good times, a reason that conservatives routinely deride,and liberals downplay out of political fear. That's the persistent anddeep racial discrimination in the workplace. The mountain of federaland state anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action programs andsuccessful employment discrimination lawsuits give the public theimpression that job discrimination is a relic of a shameful, racistpast.

Yet recent studies have found that black men without a criminal recordare less likely to find a job than white men with criminal records.This is despite the volumes of state and federal laws that ban racialdiscrimination. The Urban League's annual State of Black Americareports, a 2005 Human Rights Watch report and the numerousdiscrimination complaints reviewed by the Equal Employment OpportunityCommission over the past decade reveal that employers have devisedendless dodges to evade anti-discrimination laws. That includesrejecting applicants based on their names or areas of the city theylive in. Black applicants may be incorrectly told that jobs advertisedwere filled already. One study even documented that employers name-codeblacks to exclude them from hiring. Those with Islamic or Afrocentricsounding names are red penciled from their interview list.

A decade ago, in a seven-month comprehensive university study of thehiring practices of hundreds of Chicago area employers, many topcompany officials when interviewed said they would not hire blacks.When asked to assess the work ethic of white, black and Latinoemployees by race, nearly 40 percent of the employers ranked blacksdead last.

The employers routinely described blacks as being "unskilled,""uneducated," "illiterate," "dishonest," "lacking initiative,""involved with gangs and drugs" or "unstable," of having "no familyvalues" and being "poor role models." The consensus among theseemployers was that blacks brought their alleged pathologies to the workplace, and were to be avoided at all costs. Researchers found thatblack business owners shared many of the same negative attitudes. TheChicago study has been replicated in New York, Los Angeles, andPhiladelphia and other major cities with a large number of unemployedwork eligible black males and surveys of professional groups.

Other surveys have found that a substantial number of non-whitebusiness owners also refuse to hire blacks. Their bias effectivelyclosed out another area of employment to thousands of blacks, based ontheir color.

The government took bold and aggressive steps to bring down the numberof unemployed during the Great Depression. Obama and the Democratsshould take the same bold and aggressive steps to bring down the GreatDepression joblessness among young blacks.