While Manhattan salaries surged this year, up 12% because of Wall Street’s recovery, young black males continue to bear the burden of the economic crisis that ensued in 2008. A new report by the Community Service Society (CSS) indicates that only one in four young black men between the ages of 16 and 24 in New York City is employed. The group tied the shockingly low employment rate to the effects of the economic crisis, which rendered already inferior jobs training and alternative education structures even more ineffective.
The declining possibilities for young Black males is one feature of an overall surge in unemployment among work age Black males. The CSS reports an increase in unemployment from the already inordinately high 9% in 2006 to 17.9% in 2009. Youth workers in general have also suffered during the crisis surging to 24.6% unemployment. In addition, unemployment is not a short-term experience for the Black community. While all those with jobs who became unemployed were out of work for an average of 6 months, Black workers faced an average of 12 months before employment.
The CSS identified education as a key factor in the unemployment rate for young Black males. The figure of one in four employed rises to one in ten for Black males who do not hold a high school diploma. Unemployment figures for the Black males in the 16-24 age group with no high school diploma is hard to determine since 84% of the young men in this group are out of the labor force entirely. The CSS report was only able to identify 8% in this category who were employed from January 2009 until June 2010.
Such discriminatory trends in employment are feeding the prison pipeline. A 2010 MIT study of incarceration and inequality confirms the findings of the CSS report. The incarceration rate for young Black males without high school diplomas has surged since 1980. In 1980, these young men faced a 10% incarceration rate while in 2008 this number had increased to 35%. This speaks to the existence of a conscious social policy at work in the US, which favors incarceration over addressing issues of educational opportunity or job creation.
While these figures increased for all racial groups surveyed, they pale in comparison with white youth without a high school diploma who face an 11% incarceration rate. The report states bluntly that, “by 2008 these men [young Black males] were more likely to be locked up than employed.”
Incarceration, even over a short period, has seriously negative effects on life chances. Wage earnings over a lifetime are reduced by nearly 2/3 for those serving prison time and in an environment of overall high unemployment often leads to long-term joblessness and recidivism.
Unwinding one part of the cycle of unemployment for young Black males, would entail opening new education opportunities. Unfortunately, a November 2009 report, also issued by the CSS, indicated that GED instruction in New York State ranks near the bottom nationwide. The CSS described these programs as, “circuitous, inefficient and extraordinarily dysfunctional.” Even those who exit such programs face the prospects of a “pipeline to failure.”
The group cited the decentralization of the City’s GED programs as a key weakness. There is, they argued, no single City agency that allows all of the alternative programs to be regulated or even explored by a potential GED student. Further, because most programs lack a direct connection with colleges, they offer a degree that will lead to long-term low wage employment with few possibilities for advancement.
Fixing the GED system is a key part of what the CSS report on young Black male unemployment recommends to address this crisis. They believe that a GED program with links to a college education could be successfully combined with a jobs training program to begin to immediately address the crisis in employment.
This should be more than a crisis. It should be a political and social emergency. All levels of government should be proposing immediate emergency measures to address the findings in the CSS report. Frankly, if similar numbers related to young white males, such an emergency would be called directly. What the CSS has documented is the cutting edge of institutional racism in 21st century New York. Yet, there will be no response from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. No splashy press conferences. No innovative initiatives. Just disregard, neglect and the hope that the communities affected by this racism will remain silent.
Clearly, any serious solutions to the class-based racism we see in the report will have to come from outside mainstream politics. Bloomberg and friends are far too busy with their privatizations and budget cutting. These outcomes are produced by the logic of capitalist economics. They should be met by a strong new popular movement that takes up the slogan of “no more one in four.” The situation is simply intolerable.