Why Is Black Unemployment So Stubbornly High?

Monthly Black unemployment figures continue to be on the rise. While little can immediately be done to eradicate some factors, like discrimination, African-Americans can improve their prospects by achieving higher educational achievement levels.

Job seekers line up at the 10th annual Skid Row Career Fair held at the Los Angeles Mission in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Month after month, the jobs report brings only disappointing news to African-Americans desperately seeking work. The unemployment figure for May was no different, and ticked upward to 16.2 percent from 16.1 percent in April. For Black males, the figure was even more pessimistic at 17.5 percent.


Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said there are a number of reasons for the stubbornly high African-American unemployment rate, but cited a few factors that he believes are major contributors to the problem.


First, there’s the bitter debate taking place on Capitol Hill over raising the nation’s debt ceiling and reducing its deficit. In addition to having a damaging effect on the country’s credit rating, Cleaver warned, the partisan fight is weakening the overall desire of employers to fill vacant positions or create new jobs.


“There also are some sociological reasons. When you graduate from Prairie View, where I attended college, and you’re competing for a job with somebody who graduated from Harvard, they’re going to give the job to the Harvard guy, even though the guy from Prairie View may be more competent,” Cleaver said.


In addition, he noted, discrimination continues to play a role in persistent Black unemployment, despite the fact that many people would choose to deny it.


“One of the worst things that’s happening in America right now is that sane people with IQs above 100 are denying that discrimination is still a factor in American life,” he said. “Even when you compare African-American college graduates with non-African-American college graduates, the African-Americans still have a higher unemployment rate. I don’t know how you camouflage that.“


Still, Cleaver noted, Blacks also need to be mindful of how important education is in improving one’s job prospects, and lamented the high high-school dropout rate among African-Americans. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis also cited lack of education as one of the primary factors driving up Black unemployment rates and said that her department will release a report next week that supports the premise.


“What’s so important is that if people have better skills, more education and training, the likelihood of them getting employed is at a much higher rate,” she said. “So achievement in terms of access to higher education and being able to get certificates in different job categories is still the bottom line for the African-American community.”

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