“Now, in order to answer the question, "Where do we go from here?" which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare that he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one-half those of whites. of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we view the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share. There are twice as many unemployed. The rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population." – Martin Luther King, Jr, 1967
Many often wonder what Dr. King would be doing if he were still alive. Based on a new report from the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute revealing no end in sight to the high unemployment levels for African Americans, its clear King—like millions of his kinfolk—would not only be fighting for jobs, but also looking for one. Despite a recent drop in overall unemployment, EPI forecasts that African American unemployment will not drop below 10% this year in over 25 states while the same holds true for Latinos in 14 states.
In a report addressing the high jobless rates for African Americans and Latinos, economist Algernon Austin analyzed state unemployment data to paint a more vivid picture of the levels of economic distress in communities of color.
“There really isn’t much progress in terms of reducing unemployment for this year,” says Austin, who heads EPI’s program on race. “We hope that will change and hope Congress will support some of the president’s policies that will help job creation, but at this rate (of job creation) it won’t be until 2019 until we fully recover.”
According to the report:
- The lowest African American unemployment rate—11.2% in Maryland—is roughly the same as the highest White unemployment rate—11.7 % in Nevada.
- Four states and the District of Columbia have African American unemployment rates over 20%–Minnesota (27.4%), Michigan (21.8%), California (21.3%), DC (21.1%) and Ohio (20.3%).
- The highest unemployment rates for Latinos are found in Rhode Island (19.6%), Connecticut (18.7%), and Pennsylvania (17.5%).
While there may be a slight glimmer of hope if Congress passes President Obama's job plan (which, according to EPI’s calculations, could create an additional 1.5 million jobs) this year, the unemployment gap is likely to remain.
What worries Austin as much as a trickle-down economic recovery is the acceptance of the high African Americans unemployment rates as normal: “If you are looking at the national picture, the worst unemployment rates Whites have experienced in the last 50 years, corresponds to the best Blacks have (had). If Blacks just said we don’t want to be equal we just want to have the worst unemployment you (Whites) have would still be better than where we are at,” he says.
He points out that even prior to the Great Recession, one quarter of Blacks and thirty percent of Whites possessed bachelor’s degrees or higher, yet educated African Americans were still disproportionately unemployed.
“Even if 100 percent of blacks had their BA (degree) or higher we still would not be equal (in employment rates) with only a third of Whites having a bachelors degree or higher; that illustrates that it’s not just (about) education.”
Tanya Clay House, director of public policy for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also argues that other factors beyond the bad economy influence mass African American unemployment.
“I definitely believe one of the problems we haven’t dealt with is that we still face continual discrimination in this country,” she said.
House points to the increasing use of such as credit and criminal background checks, as new forms of discrimination, which only add to racial disparities in the workforce.
“Many people do gloss over those racial barriers because there has been the acceptance of the double-digit unemployment rate (among African Americans. Unfortunately race is consistently a factor in this society and were not done with it,” she said.
Some are hoping that citizens would take on Dr. King’s penchant for forcing America to look in the mirror.
“Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington, it’s the march for jobs and freedom. . . the Poor Peoples campaign was about full employment,” said Austin. “Civil rights rightly identify jobs as an important part of the civil rights, (and) for Blacks to make serious socio-economic progress we have to find a way to break this (2 to 1 unemployment) ratio that has persisted for a half a century.”