Commentary: Black Unemployment Is Even Worse Than You Think

The national Black unemployment rate is bad enough, but in certain parts of America, 13.6 percent is nothing.

Posted: 07/05/2012 05:18 PM EDT
Black unemployment in May was at 13.6 percent.

Unemployment and the ills that accompany it are some of the most relevant topics of conversation when it comes to African-Americans today. May’s job numbers were disappointing across the board, but, once again, the Black unemployment rate ticked upward, as it has for many months in the past few years. 

Black unemployment in May was at 13.6 percent, an increase of six-tenths of a percent from the month before. The national unemployment rate is only 8.2 percent. [UPATE 07/06/12: The African-American unemployment rate rose to 14.4 percent, from 13.6 percent in May. The national rate was unchanged from 8.2 percent.]

But while we’ve known for a long time that Black unemployment significantly outpaces the national unemployment rates, new data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows just how bad things have gotten in some of America’s most diverse and important cities.

Writes Tula Connell on the AFL-CIO union blog:

African-American workers’ jobless rate in 2011 hovered between 9.7 percent and 22.6 percent in 19 major metropolitan areas, according to new data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Overall, the Black unemployment rate was two to three times as high as that of whites. EPI also found that the 2011 unemployment rate among Latino workers was higher than 10 percent in 17 of 25 metro areas.

Fifteen of the 19 metropolitan areas EPI examined had Black unemployment rates below 20 percent but above 10 percent in 2011. Of these 15 areas, Chicago and Detroit had the highest African-American unemployment rates, at 19.1 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively.

What all this means is that for many Blacks in many pockets of America, joblessness is far more of a problem than it is nationally, and even nationally it’s a major issue. But according to the EPI, all hope is not lost. There is a way to reverse the awful Black unemployment epidemic:

America’s metropolitan areas need more economic stimulus programs, particularly infrastructure investments and aid to state and local governments. There is broad agreement among economists that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act worked; the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the act created more than 3 million jobs. While the Obama administration has proposed providing more aid to state and local governments, conservatives in Congress have blocked such efforts. The time to act is now.

In other words, we need Congress to work together to provide opportunities to the poor. Sadly, perhaps we shouldn’t hold our breath.

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