For unemployed black Americans, Martin Luther King's dream unfinished

WASHINGTON —

Fifty years after the “dream” of racial equality invoked by Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, the reality is that African-Americans still suffer the most unemployment.

Government statistics show the overall US unemployment rate stood at 7.4% in July. But while whites had a jobless rate of 6.6% last month, the rate was nearly double for blacks at 12.6%. By comparison, the Hispanic, or Latino, minority fared better, with 9.1% unemployed.

Asian-Americans were the least affected by the woes in the U.S. labor market after the Great Recession; only 5.7% lacked jobs.

“Discriminations against African-Americans are still very pervasive, it’s a major force of the economy,” Heather McGhee, vice president of Demos, a Washington-based think tank on equal rights, told AFP.

The yawning gap between majority whites and blacks is nothing new and has persisted through periods of economic expansion and recession.

Since 1972 the jobless rate for blacks has held at roughly double that of the entire workforce.

Even at the end of 2000, amid full employment in the U.S., when the jobless rate was 3.9%, 7.3% of African-American workers were unemployed.

The weight of this joblessness has pushed blacks into the majority of the 27.6% of Americans living in poverty, although they represent only 13% of the population of some 316 million.

The statistics hide the fact that gains have been made since King’s landmark call for equal rights and opportunities in 1963.

“There’s been a lot of progress,” McGhee said. “We have to make sure to not act as if the story of black America is a tragic one.”

Nearly 50 years after segregation was ruled illegal in 1964, President Barack Obama is the first black president and blacks’ access to education has improved enormously, she noted.

According to McGhee, 86% of blacks have attended high school, compared with 38% in 1963, and 20% are going to a college or university, compared with only 5% a half century ago.

However, she said, the effort to bridge the gap with whites has flagged. “We are suffering because we took our foot off the gas on integration.”

Progress in education has not been enough to change the trajectory of joblessness, a University of Chicago economics professor and labor market expert, Ioana Marinescu, told AFP.

“Only a part of the gap is explained by differences in the level of education,” she said.

According to experts, the negative stereotypes about blacks remain in the undercurrents of U.S. society, but in different forms than in the past.

“Prejudice and bias have become unconscious,” said McGhee, herself an African-American.

“It has become out of fashion to explicitly say that you don’t want to hire a black person. We know how much these implicit biases influence people who are making decisions.”

Statistics on minorities help to “illuminate the public debate” in the United States and to raise awareness about discrimination in the labor market, said Marinescu.

Businesses under contract with the U.S. federal government must have measures in place promoting affirmative action, or positive discrimination, and favor the advancement of minorities, without resorting to quotas.

And U.S. companies employing more than 100 workers have to publish an annual report on the ethnicity and gender of their workforces.

For Nancy DiTomaso, professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey, persistent racial inequality is rooted in whites helping other whites.

“Most people got their jobs because someone helped them, either by providing them with information, by using influence on their behalf saying: ‘this is my friend, look out for him’, or by actually giving them a job or an opportunity,” she told AFP.

According to DiTomaso, author of the book “The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism”, the importance of this networking has put African-Americans at a disadvantage.

“The dynamic is not whites discriminating against blacks, it’s that whites are helping other whites, and that’s different,” she said.

“People tend to say that they found a job because they worked hard and because they were motivated, rather than acknowledging that it happened through connections.”

(C) 2013 AFP

  • -1

    MarkG

    Wats the percentage of single parent households in the black community compared to others?

    What percentage have incarcerated parent/s?

    Who are the black community role models in this generation? Gangster rappers?

    This and more adds up to a child's future failure. Public Education here in in USA will push student through to graduation even if the are failing in grades. For those who do not drop out and graduate do have insurmountable obstacles for their future. That applies to all public school students. "No Child Left Behind" it is called straight from a Washington think tank!

  • 0

    TheQuestion

    Look how large urban centers like Detroit are run and you'll start seeing why so many are left behind. Then when anybody tries to actually fix the mess they're called a racist and every Reverend in the city gets their congregation to protest.

  • -1

    bass4funk

    This is what happens when you elect a food stamp president. Liberals always think the way to tackle poverty is just give handouts and social welfare programs, never thinking about building a strong private sector to get these people off the government tit. As long as Blacks vote for the Democratic Party, they will always have high unemployment and can never rise above the poverty level.

  • -1

    JeanValJean

    Bass, for once we are in agreement. But the populist thinking is pervasive in both sides of the Demopublicans.

  • 1

    SuperLib

    I really don't take these things seriously unless it includes a comprehensive look at the black community. Racism doesn't stop a 15-year old from going to school and getting an education. It doesn't stop the parents from making sure that kid has the necessary skills to be able to support himself later in life. You have to look at both racism and reality at the same time if you want anything to change.

    I do work at a homeless shelter and I see the same type of families across all races who are down and out. They are usually uneducated and the number of children they have is alarming. The point is that there are plenty of white people who are in the same situation. I see younger white kids walking down the street that I'd never offer a job to. I see how some white kids talk like there is no education in their heads and they can't even write a coherent sentence. I can understand why they best job they can get is usually hourly. They will obviously never have real wealth or stability in their lives.

    Now take what I said above and pretend I said it about young black people. You can't tell me that racism wouldn't be used as a partial explanation. If you're white it's just chalked up as you being a loser. And there are plenty of white losers out there.

  • -2

    globalwatcher

    And there are plenty of white losers out there.

    Yes, the quality of education is very critical in the time of globalization.

    I will never forget my sad experience I had in the past. I was trying to buy a dozen bagle with an additional 50% off coupon at Einstein local store during Happy Hour 25% time. Well, a casher looked at me and said, "well, I do not know how to do this, will ya help me? Do I add 50%off to the 25% off ? Sound like you are getting a free dozen bagles today?" I know this is her PT job while going to the college.

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