Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Unemployment Hits Harder Among Latinos, African Americans

Unemployment hits harder among Latinos, blacks

Associated Press

The ax fell without sound or shadow: Tatiana Gallego was suddenly called into human resources and laid off from her job as an admissions counselor for a fashion college.

"The way people tried to explain it to me was, I was the last one hired so I was the first one out," said Gallego, 25, who had worked there for 17 months.

Last hired, first fired: This generations-old cliche rings bitterly true for millions of Latinos and blacks who are losing jobs at a faster rate than the general population during this punishing recession.

Much of the disparity is due to a concentration of Latinos and blacks in construction, blue-collar or service-industry jobs that have been decimated by the economic meltdown. And black unemployment has been about double the rate for whites since the government began tracking those categories in the early 1970s.

But this recession is cutting a swath through the professional classes as well, which can be devastating to people who recently arrived there.

Since the recession began in December 2007, Latino unemployment has risen 4.7 percentage points, to 10.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black unemployment has risen 4.5 points, to 13.4 percent. White unemployment has risen 2.9 points, to 7.3 percent.

Gallego, whose parents were born in Colombia, graduated from the University of Rhode Island. Her mother is self-employed, and her stepfather works in construction.

She was stunned when she was told to pack up and leave by the end of the day because enrollment was down at her New York City school. She said she had recently received a positive performance review, and her bosses were planning to send her to a conference.

"Maybe I just don't know that much about the business world, because I felt like I did more, I went above and beyond more than other people in my office did," she said.

William Darity, a professor of economics and African-American studies at Duke University, said that "blacks and Latinos are relative latecomers to the professional world ... so they are necessarily the most vulnerable."

"We don't have those older roots to anchor us in the professional world," Darity said. "We don't have the same nexus of contacts, the same kind of seniority."

There are no recent government statistics that measure jobs lost by race and income. But Darity and others believe that professional Latinos and blacks are more likely to lose their jobs in the recession.

"Many times blacks and Latinos are the last to be hired, so naturally they are first to be fired," said Jerry Medley, who has been in the executive search business for 30 years.

"Not saying that it's racism," Medley said, "but if a manager or a senior executive is looking at a slate of individuals and has to let one of them go, chances are he or she will not let the person go that they spend a lot of time with at the country club or similar places."

The less wealth you have, the harder unemployment hits. Darity cited 2002 data that showed black households with a median net worth of $6,000, Latino households with a median of $8,000, and white households with a median of $90,000.

Philip Salter was creative director for a Chicago advertising firm where about 75 percent of the revenue came from a contract with a Fortune 500 company to create ads targeted at minorities. When the firm lost that contract plus two general-market accounts, Salter's job evaporated.

"When companies cut back their ad dollars, minority budgets are where they start," said Salter, 62, who is black. "Unfortunately in this business, most clients just view (minority advertising) as an overlay or meeting an obligation that social organizations might place on them."

His last day was in January 2008. With alimony payments and two kids in college, Salter moved from his four-bedroom house into an apartment and has scraped by on consulting gigs.

Salter's mother worked as a housekeeper, and his father was a custodian. Before his divorce, Salter's stepdaughter and her four children lived with him for many years.

Professional blacks "don't usually start out with an inheritance," he said. "On top of that, quite often things happen in our families to cause us stress. An unexpected child or grandchild, drug problems. When you try to set aside money to put your kids through college, all of a sudden you have to say, 'I can't let this family member fall and become homeless.'

"I would say eight out of 10 people I know have a similar situation."

Then there are those clinging to the bottom of the ladder, laid off from lower-paying jobs.

For them, "once the primary breadwinner loses his or her job, there isn't much backup," said Harry Holzer, former chief economist for the Department of Labor who now is a professor at Georgetown University and the Urban Institute.

The Great Depression ended after the government created a "safety net" of wide-ranging social-assistance programs. Since then, the overall unemployment rate peaked in 1981-1982, at 10.8 percent on a monthly basis, Holzer said.

Economists believe we could reach that level in the current recession, Holzer said — but he added that unlike in the 1980s, today the safety net has been largely dismantled by restrictions placed on welfare and unemployment eligibility.

"You worry about populations of concentrated poverty and having less access to the safety net," Holzer said. "It could lead to social unrest, higher crime rates — no one knows."

"It will obviously have an effect on the crime rate," said Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion, which recently issued a report stating that nonwhites are bearing the heaviest burden during the recession.

"There also are all sorts of health-related issues connected with that," Wiley said. "We could see higher rates of everything from homicides to tuberculosis."

As racism wanes and blacks and Latinos advance up the economic ladder, many cite this progress as proof that it would be unfair to offer race-based remedies to those left behind. Even many minorities have embraced themes of self-help and personal responsibility.

Others, like the Duke professor Darity, say that America "has never come to terms with racial economic inequality."

"The current situation," Darity said, "is reinforcing and widening those inequalities."

On the Net:
Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov
Jerry Medley: http://www.medleyrecruits.com

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Posted on Tue, Mar. 10, 2009

When recession hits, minorities really feel it

11% of black people are now out of work

The Wichita Eagle

WICHITA - WICHITA -- Black America is familiar with recession. Even before economists used that word to describe the current economic climate, black people -- nationally and locally -- experienced higher levels of unemployment and lower median income than their white counterparts.

As Algernon Austin, a leading researcher with the Economic Policy Institute, puts it: "When white America is in recession, black America is in an economic depression."

The same is true for Hispanic communities, said Austin, who directs the Washington, D.C.-based institute's program on race, ethnicity and the economy.

Typically, black people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people.

In Kansas, the gap is even wider. The 2008 annual average unemployment rate for African-Americans was nearly 11 percent, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It was 4 percent for white people and nearly 8 percent for Hispanic people.

The reasons include things such as educational attainment and discrimination, experts said.

Though economic stimulus funds aimed at job training may provide some relief, Austin said economic troubles in some communities of color have been "relatively permanent."

"The level of unemployment whites consider a high level is what blacks experience even in the good times," Austin said.

Factors behind gap

Lower levels of education among minorities is one factor that contributes to the unemployment disparities, Austin said.

In Wichita, 85 percent of African-Americans and 91 percent of Hispanics over age 25 are without a bachelor's degree, according to U.S. Census data from 2005 to 2007. That's compared with 72 percent of white people.

Another factor Austin points out is discrimination in the workplace.

The Kansas Human Rights Commission, which investigates complaints of wrongdoing, received 190 employment complaints in the last fiscal year. People can file more than one basis for their complaints.

Of those filed, 271 were allegations of discrimination based on race, which ranks third behind gender and retaliation, according to commission statistics. In discussing the disparities, Austin points to recent research from Devah Pager, an associate professor of sociology and a population research expert at Princeton University.

In a January report, Pager cited a study examining employment discrimination in low-paying jobs in New York City. The study found that black people were half as likely to receive a call back or job offer as equally qualified whites.

The report also concluded: "Blacks with clean records fared no better than a white man just released from prison."

"Unfortunately being black is a stigma... equivalent with being a white criminal," said Austin, who is African-American.

A tough job hunt

Veronica Maples, office administrator at Tabernacle Bible Church Without Walls, said she's answering more calls about unemployment and homelessness from the congregation and the community.

"We're a church -- we're not really an agency that can really have the tools that can help these people," Maples said of the predominantly African-American church.

"People are doing a little bit of anything to make it."

Thomas Rhodes, who was laid off from the aircraft industry a month ago, said he spends at least 12 hours a week job hunting. So far, he's only landed two interviews.

Rhodes wonders whether his age, 48, is also working against him.

"It seems like it's harder for older minorities than younger ones," Rhodes said.

Abram Velo, who said he has a college degree in accounting, is donating plasma to make ends meet during his unsuccessful two-month job search. Even temporary employment agencies haven't netted the 26-year-old any work.

"I wish there were more jobs out here," said Velo, who was looking through job descriptions Monday at the Wichita Workforce Center.

As the economy worsens, Urban League president Chester Daniel said the nonprofit is seeing more people using its services, including job training. It is bracing to assist more as layoffs in the aviation industry and other parts of the economy start to take effect.

SER Corp., a job training and placement agency that serves a large Hispanic population, is not seeing a big increase in the people it serves, according to chief executive Richard Lopez.

Lopez said Hispanic people in the hospitality and services industries could be hurt by the recession sooner than those who work in construction.

Construction work on the $370 million Wichita school bond could also stabilize the construction market, Lopez said.

Hope in stimulus bill

Daniel, Lopez and Austin, the researcher, agree that the federal stimulus package's $3.95 billion for job training offers hope to minorities and others.

"You want to really do job creation if you're concerned about black and Hispanic communities," Austin said. "You want them (lawmakers) to develop programs that make sure that jobs reach these populations since those populations are much more likely to be unemployed."

Lopez said his organization is poised to capture contracts from the stimulus funds and hire more people. Last year, SER assisted more than 600 people, Lopez said.

Daniel said he plans to meet other Urban League affiliate leaders from across the country in Washington, D.C., at the end of the month to discuss stimulus funding.

"This is a very tough time for people out there," Daniel said. "When they come to us, we are their last hope."

Reach Christina M. Woods at 316-269-6791 or cwoods@wichitaeagle.c