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Black unemployment sparks chorus of discontent

March 2, 2011

Tide of Mideast revolt gives rise to homegrown frustration

by Chris Levister

A jobless Moreno Valley man wipes tear from his eyes as he and more than a dozen others discuss the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and how the movements relate to the 34.5 percent unemployment rate among African American men.
What would happen if 34.5 percent of White men did not have jobs? According to new U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics, joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old Black men has reached Great Depression proportions – more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population.

From a national policy perspective, how would people respond and what would happen? Would there be a revolution? A refocusing of national priorities? A massive jobs creation program?

As the tide of revolt sweeps Egypt and Tunisia sparking anti-government protests in other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, some African Americans are asking the proverbial question:

“Will it take a revolution to spark economic change in Black America?”

“All eyes are on the uprisings playing out in Egypt and Tunisia, yet America systematically turns a blind eye to the oppression in its own backyard.”

That’s 24-year-old Reggie “Tony” Scruggs, a Moreno Valley computer technician who has been unemployed more than two years.

Scruggs, born and raised in Mississippi, says he’s never had any trouble with the law, other than a few traffic violations, and leads a middle class life in Moreno Valley. He says being Black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction, in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.

“It’s a cruel irony of life that, as Billie Holiday sang, “Them that’s got shall get,” said Scruggs. “I’m not a thug, I’m not lazy, I’m not a high school dropout, I don’t have a college degree but I have usable skills. Black men want to work, but they won’t hire us.”

Black men want to work, but they won’t hire us.

These days he spends much of his time knocking on doors looking for work or pent up in his mother’s one-bedroom apartment, the TV blaring hour after hour. He clinches his fist and repeatedly pounds on a pile of mother boards, hard drives, cables and other computer parts.

“I can take a computer apart and rebuild it. I can troubleshoot hardware and software. Yet employers won’t hire me. Why?” Scruggs asked.

He held up a certificate of completion for a computer technician apprenticeship program. So far the most the training program has yielded was a temporary tech support representative. The job lasted 11 days.

“When I walk into a place of business and ask for a job application, the first thing the receptionist wants to do is call security.”

Monday, nearly a dozen jobless men stood outside a popular mini-market on Alessandro Boulevard trying to stay out of the streets and out of trouble.

“People are condemning the oppression in Egypt and Tunisia. U.S. government officials, the media, they’re all over the Mideast revolution. But many of those same people will walk over a jobless African American to get to their microphone,” said Richard Hedrick, an out of work truck driver who has an AA degree.

“Our plight doesn’t make the headlines,” said another man, who wiped tears from his eyes.

As young Black men, they belong to a group that has been hit much harder than any other by unemployment. Joblessness for 16-to-24-year-old Black men has reached Great Depression proportions – 34.5 percent in December, more than three times the rate for the general U.S. population.

And last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that while the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.5 percent, Black joblessness remained virtually stagnant, going from 15.8 to 15.7 percent and Black teen jobless figures, still the highest of any group, actually ticked up from 44.2 to 45.4 percent.

“Can you imagine any other group at that level of unemployment and the media dismissing it as not important?” the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked during an interview posted on the website Africana Online.

“This has become so acceptable that it doesn’t even cause anyone to stop and wonder how we are failing,” said Jackson, reflecting on the latest federal unemployment report.

Jackson added that lack of access to appropriate education and training, employer bias, incorrect background checks, inappropriate credit checks and other structural barriers also serve as barriers to employment.

A cross-sectional analysis of employers by Harry J. Holzer of Georgetown University found that employers are generally more averse to hiring Black males than those from any other racial and gender group, especially in jobs that require social or verbal skills and in service occupations.

Another study from Princeton University of nearly 1,500 employers in New York City found that Black applicants without criminal records are no more likely to get a job than white applicants just out of prison. The statistics from the study also suggested that employer discrimination against people of color and ex-offenders has significantly undermined the job opportunities for young Black men with little education and training.

During nearly a year of fieldwork, teams of testers audited hundreds of job applicants applying for a wide range of entry level jobs such as waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers and customer service representatives.

The results of these studies were startling, said Devah Pager, an associate professor of sociology and faculty associate of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. His research on Black men and the labor market revealed gross discrimination in the hiring of Black men.

“The young Black men posing as job applicants in my studies were bright college kids, models of discipline and hard work; and yet, even in this best case scenario, these applicants were routinely overlooked simply on the basis of the color of their skin. The results of multiple studies suggest that Black men must work at least twice as hard as equally qualified whites simply to overcome the stigma of their skin color.”

The employment rates of African-American men remained stagnant even during the economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s, said Algernon Austin, a sociologist with the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center in Washington, D.C.

The employment rates of African-American men remained stagnant even during the economic booms in the 1980s and 1990s.

Austin said the group’s continued high unemployment rates, even after many years of a strong economy, are influenced by multiple factors, including high rates of incarceration, limited education, child support arrearages and discrimination.

Even as the recovery slowly takes hold, Austin said none of the projections call for unemployment among Blacks to fall much below 10 percent.

“Blacks are going to have double digit unemployment until 2014. It’s a dire situation and unfortunately not many people are treating this as a crisis. … Even college-educated Blacks are facing shockingly high unemployment.”

Chris Levister is a journalist whose work appears in newspapers around the country and also a physician and past president of the Vines Medical Society, the Inland component of the National Medical Association. This story previously appeared in and

9 thoughts on “Black unemployment sparks chorus of discontent

  1. WantaJob

    The problem is not as simple as minorities are more likely to be laid off and harder to pass a job interview. The prejudice of previous employers would be more damaging and cause worse evaluations and references than who the minorities actually are.This inevitable will damage the morale of people been discriminated at and result less than best output or performance. Why bother when you are looked down at and get a bad evaluation not matter how hard you work and how well you perform?
    Unless someone don't want a job for the rest of your life, he/she often does not dare to sue or reluctant to complain about their current or former employers. There is a time frame for people to file discrimination lawsuit or complain. By the time, someone realize his/her is out of unemployment benefit and still could not find a job and become the 99ers, the time frame to file lawsuit or complain also elapsed.

  2. Questions

    The 16-24 year old age bracket is going to be the worst off anyway due to a shortage in overall work and this groups lack of experience. I understand that these findings may show that blacks aged 16-24 are having a particularly difficult time, but I’d be truly interested in seeing the unemployment for for other groups within this same age bracket. Further, I’d also like to see education and experience statistics. I know personally it took having a masters degree and several years of experience to land the job I now have. Since we are now looking to add another, I am also aware of how many applications we are receiving and what it tool for me to beat out the competition. Just a thought.

  3. freepass

    I'm really late to this article. It's sad on so many levels. There are many reasons for these high levels of unemployment, some which were addressed. But what I find absolutely amazing is not one mention of the policies of President Obama. Those suffering most in this article consist of the highest supporters of Obama, yet his promises and policies have failed them. But he gets a free pass. Everyone has a fear of losing their job these days. Don't vote color. Support candidates and policies that promote economic growth. If you can only see color then at least look up Herman Cain, Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams. I hope things improve for everyone soon. Take Care.

  4. gillie888

    walter williams? he is a perfect example of black self-loathing that is a learned behavior developed under the hand of white racist american society. dr. williams typifies many 'uncle tom' i.e. middle class academia negroes who have sought to gain approval by emulating the views and cultural mores of the oppressing white 'majority' society. perhaps his view of blacks and the welfare state comes from the fact that his father abandoned his mother and him when he was 3. google that fact. bet he's been mad at black people, especially black males ever since.

  5. Whitey

    In Houston you will see many black men of able body simply walking around the hood, playing basketball, drinking, panhandling, dealing drugs or congregating in front of stores. When I say of able body, I mean that most of these guys are so ripped they could probably punch through a brick house.
    Stop playing the helpless victim blaming others for your problems. I can guarantee you that you have not personally seen any level of bad treatment comparable to that of your ancestors. As far as whites taking land from the Indians, has it ever occurred to you that the Indians were and still are a bloodthirsty people who failed to live righteously, therefore they were conquered.
    I find it interesting that the Blacks and the Indians face so many of the same problems in life, yet Hispanics seem to have way lower unemployment rates than most or all minorities.
    I am tired of seeing countless blacks driving way nicer cars than I will ever have simply because they know how to cheat the system of my tax dollars by hanging out on welfare, getting utility stipends & enjoying subsidized rent.

    Your friend Whitey

  6. Max Shepherd

    I operate a part time small business and work full time for a large corporation. I have 3 part time employees and would more than likely not consider hiring a black individual. I have seen the corporation I work for full time get stuck with some totally worthless black employees simply because it is next to impossible to fire them without being sued. They typically do not have issues firing worthless white employees. I can not afford to operate my small business with "token" employees on board. I have nothing against minorities, this is simply sound logic prevailing and covering my hind end!


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