The views expressed in Mister Roberts Neighborhood are based on my own beliefs, observations and life experiences.
Lately, I have been doing my own brand of “research” in order to gauge and form an accurate picture of how the economic downturn is affecting blacks.
I call this study, “Can’t Find No Work, Can’t Find No Job,” which borrows from the Marvin Gaye song, “What’s Happenin’ Brother.” The song comes from Gaye’s landmark 1972 release, “What’s Goin’ On,” but the song’s relevance, meaning and applicability have undeniable connections to the plight that many in the black community are experiencing today.
To date, my “journey” has taken me to store-front churches, laundromats, check cashing stores, a homeless shelter as well as barber shops and beauty salons. The one thread of consistency among the places that I visited is that they all primarily cater to an audience that is exclusively black.
Of these, the salons and barber shops proved to be among the most insightful and consistently informative. This is due to the fact that they tend to cover an extremely wide and diverse swath – regardless of gender, socio-economics or class.
The most intimidating, yet revealing “portrait” was what I discovered during a homeless shelter visit. The stories and the experience touched me at my core and helped me better understand just how the last twelve months have turned lives upside down. Much of what I found validated things that I already knew to be true – the lack of funds has forced people to re-align their priorities. I met people who, a year ago were just starting to “feel the pinch” and have now lost their jobs and their homes. In fact, the only possessions many have are the ones they can carry.
In his 1/18 Op-Ed piece for the New York Times, “Blacks in Retreat,” columnist Bob Herbert wrote:
“As the nation continues to wallow in the trough of widespread unemployment, black Americans are bearing a disproportionate burden of joblessness.”
Herbert always provides an eloquent and precise assessment of the topics that he tackles. Make no mistake – the facts are very real and sobering.
To this point, Herbert’s piece also quoted a statistic from ‘United for a Fair Economy:’
“College-educated black men are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts.”
The national unemployment rate in December 2009 was 10% .
Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for African-Americans showed little change, slightly increasing at 16.2%.
This news remains discouraging because the black unemployment number is more than double the national black unemployment number in cities like Baltimore, New York and Detroit. The Detroit black male unemployment rate is reported as exceeding 40% where the downturn is referred to in some circles as the “he-cession.”
While I am not trying to paint a picture of gloom and doom, the harsh reality is that this economic assault has, and continues to have, a devastating impact.
The recession has compounded a decades-long problem for black workers, who began the downturn facing a far higher jobless rate than the general population and have fared worse since. Job prospects are slim, but for blacks it is a much harsher reality. Numbers illustrate the sheer depth of the problem they are facing. Indicators point to the fact that recovery for this group will be slow and arduous.
While debates that continue in the mainstream with regard to whether or not Harry Reid’s comments were appropriate or simply offensive, Tiger’s ever-evolving escapades and whereabouts, Real and Not-So-Real Housewives, Men Marrying Wealthier Women and Conan are all titillating, I have found that what is most important and top-of-mind for black people is unemployment.
The issue is two-fold – finding a job and retaining a job.
Amazingly, despite the economic hardships they face, blacks remain optimistic. Perhaps it is a natural reaction based on the obstacles and disadvantages they’ve had to endure. It could also be the foundational belief that hard work and education primarily drive mobility. There is a degree of truth to both. However, what is needed most in order to provide effective solutions is a shift in priorities from outside forces.