We were anticipating bad news with the release of today’s unemployment figures for February by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We knew it would be bad, but not this bad. Black unemployment now stands at 13.4 percent, 38.8 percent for Black teenagers and 14.9 percent for Black men. It is time we stopped talking about a “crisis.” Black unemployment is now a full-scale national emergency.
Black mayors and state legislators, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, should convene an emergency meeting on Black joblessness. Given the flow of economic stimulus dollars into states, our elected officials need to act quickly to make certain are communities are receiving a share of funds proportionate to the impact of the recession. This is no time to be diplomatic. Black people need jobs and they need them now, because entire neighborhoods are on the cusp of an economic meltdown if work is not made available.
The situation among all segments of the Black community is disastrous but perhaps none more so than Black teenagers. In March, Black teenage employment crept up near the 40 percent mark. If something is not done to find work for Black young adults, the potential social dysfunction has long-term implications. Our community cannot survive if the current generation of Black youth is not given an opportunity to enter the labor market. We are not talking about summer jobs either, although the season will indeed be hit if millions of Black youth have no way to engage in productive work. Our concern is permanent employment for the hundreds of thousands of Black young adults who have dropped out of school, have no intention of returning or have “aged out” of the public school system. Many of these young adults are real wage earners in their households and their income helps support their families. They cannot afford to be idle, and their families cannot afford them not working.
Black men also continue to be isolated. This is not to suggest that Black women have not been affected, they have, but Black men have taken a real hit as is made clear in the BLS data from last month. Many of these men fall within the category of young adults we describe above. Some are men who have recently been released from correctional facilities and are without means, connection or wherewithal to secure employment. Still, others are casualties of corporate restructuring, the downsizing of companies and victims of mass layoffs. In some sectors, like manufacturing, it is clear that Black men have been hit hard as areas where they had gained access are some of the hardest hit in this recession.
Action, urgent action, is needed now to develop a plan to put Black Americans back to work. It would be a tragedy of immense proportion if, at a time when have the first Black President, a historic number of members of Congress, Black governors and mayors, and record numbers of Black legislators; we find ourselves unable to help our own community. It will require breaking down some real barriers, such as blatant discrimination by construction trade unions that leave most construction sites mostly white. This emergency will also require a different conversation with corporate America that is rooted in our strength as consumers. It will require taking the position that has been the mantra of the Congressional Black Caucus – “No Permanent Friends. No Permanent Enemies. Just Permanent Interests.”
Nothing less will do at this point. It has long been said that when America catches a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. Well, America has influenza, and the Black community is on life support. We encourage you to call your mayor, state representative, and member of Congress, and demand that action is taken to address Black unemployment. Even if you have not been personally impacted, chances are someone in your family or circle of friends has. If we sit idly by and watch our community disintegrate before our very eyes, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. President Obama ran on a platform of “change,” it is now up to us to bring it about.
It is time we stopped talking about a “crisis.” Black unemployment is now a full-scale national emergency.