Though we’d like to prepare them for the real world, Black teenagers are too often being left out of the labor force.
Though the jobless rate for white Americans is dropping steadily—not quickly, but steadily—the unemployment rate for African-Americans remains remarkably high. Overall, the U.S. unemployment rate is at about 8.7 percent. Black unemployment, however, is at a shocking 16.1 percent. But while Blacks as a whole are suffering, yet another subgroup is in even worse trouble: Black teenagers.
According to a new Department of Labor statistics, Black teenage unemployment is now at almost 40 percent. Overall, teenage unemployment is at 23 percent—that’s not great, but it’s nowhere near 40. And in some places it’s even worse. In Illinois, for instance, the Black teenage unemployment weighs in at a whopping 47.7 percent.
There is some good news: The Black unemployment rate is actually lower than it’s been in the recent past. In 2009, the jobless rate for African-Americans aged 16 to 19 was at more than 49 percent. That it’s declining in an economy this bad is good news, but it’s still not as good as it can be. By contrast, in Illinois, white teenage unemployment is only at about 25 percent.
A lot of this wouldn’t be very troubling if it was only a problem with the economy. With the nation’s financial health currently in dire straits, everyone’s taking a hit. The problem is that the reason so many African-American teens are unemployed is because of pure racism. In an NPR story from last year, job placement specialist Allison Lee said she’s seen the bigotry directly. "They have told me on the phone or to my face that they are hiring," she said. "And when I send a student in by himself who's a young Black male, they're told, 'No, we're not hiring.'"
This is especially worrying considering how teenage work leads into adult work. Without a solid resume that suggests responsibility and effort, teenagers on their way to becoming adults in the real world will potentially find it difficult to get gainful employment. That then creates a cycle of joblessness and poverty that keeps African-Americans in the lower class. We have to remember that setting up our children for failure only prepares them to be failed adults, too.
(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)