By Lynda L. Jones
Over this recent Labor Day weekend, unemployment news was beyond dismal for the Black population especially. The August jobs report shows that Black unemployment is the highest now than it has been in 27 years, with a rate surge of 16.7 percent nationally. While Black unemployment surges, White unemployment fell slightly to 8 percent, and the Latino rate remained at 11.3 percent. These numbers are generated by the Labor Department.
“This month’s numbers continue to bear out that longstanding pattern that minorities have a much more challenging time getting jobs,” said Bill Rodgers, chief economist with the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.
Black unemployment has been roughly double that of Whites since the government started tracking the figures in 1972.
Economists blame a variety of factors. The Black workforce is younger than the White workforce, lower numbers of Blacks get a college degree and many live in areas of the country that were harder hit by the recession — all things that could lead to a higher unemployment rate.
Wisconsin rates at 21 tied with Pennsylvania with an overall unemployment rate of 7.8 percent. However, in June 2011 Milwaukee had a 34 percent unemployment rate for Black men. Nationally, Black men also have it worst than Black women with a 19.1 percent rate versus a 14.5 percent for the women.
Just 40 years ago, 8 out of 10 Black men were employed in Milwaukee. Most found jobs in manufacturing, where coming straight out of high school allowed men to earn a very comfortable income. An income that made home ownership a reality, and educating your children beyond high school. This sustainable wage also created stability in the home, where single parent households were not the norm.
Today, in Milwaukee there are no more of these jobs, and now the other safe haven for jobs for Black men and women with government jobs are threatened as well. Legislators here are still challenging the decision to close 5 Milwaukee post offices, all in the central city of Milwaukee, another potential blow to Black employment.
Back in June, the Milwaukee NAACP released its report; ‘Milwaukee Today: An Occasional Report of the NAACP. This report was prepared by R.L McNeely, a lawyer and professor of social welfare at UW-Milwaukee, David Pate, UW-Milwaukee assistant professor of social work, and Lisa Ann Johnson, a bachelor’s degree candidate in social work at the university.
In the report, more than half of all African American males in Milwaukee between the ages of 16 and 64 are unemployed. Where the Department of Labor report bases its numbers on those filing for unemployment and looking for jobs, there are other factors that reports such as the NAACP report take into consideration, such as incareration, and those individuals who do not receive unemployment benefits. Critics have stated that the term that should be used in the more in-depth reports should be joblessness. The bottom line is whatever term you use Blacks are suffering the most from not working.
The public sector is the most important source of employment for African Americans and a key source of high-paying jobs, especially for Black women, according to a study by the U.C. Berkeley Department of Labor. African Americans are 30 percent more likely to hold government jobs than other workers; from 2008- 2010, 21.2 percent of Black workers were employed in the public sector, compared to just 16.3 percent of non-Black workers.
Milwaukee has attempted to attack this crisis with programs through such organizations as Workforce Development, the Social Development Commission (SDC) and Transitional Jobs Programs.
Back in June, 2011 one of the transitional jobs programs developed a program where high school drop-outs, low-skilled workers, even ex-felons with businesses willing to train them. For six months men are paid to learn carpentry or electrical installation skills. Troy Reese, owner of T.L. Reese Construction is one of the participates who signed up to be a trainer.
In June, five months into the program 124 trainees had signed up. Of that group, 88 were in transitional jobs and six had landed full-time jobs. None had dropped out.
Programs like these demonstrate that once given an opportunity, unemployed men and women do want to work. This is obvious in contrast to those that say, unemployed men and women do not want to work, and are just lazy.
What Milwaukee does not need are politicians who work hard at making life harder here. It is no secret that our legislators in Madison consistently have a uphill battle when they go to fight for Milwaukee. Recent policies such as conceal and carry laws, voter ID bill restraints, cuts in education, cuts in bus service, killing a high speed transit deal, and encouraging professionals such as teachers, police and firefighters to leave the city in residency all hurt this city and those who live in it.
A sign recently held up at a local event gives a great summary to what is going on here and nationwide. ‘Poverty is Violence’, for those who do not see that when an entire community is under attack with lack of opportunity and poverty takes its root, families are destroyed, unhealthy habits are often developed, mental illness, incarceration and drugs have the potential to explode. So yes, ‘Poverty is Violence’ this is not an excuse it’s just a fact.