This high number seems almost welcoming when you consider that in some areas, the unemployment rate for black males is actually double this figure. According to the think tank, the Community Service Society, 34% of black men, ages 19 to 24 in New York City are not working. In Milwaukee, the rate is also 34%.
With such a tailor-made campaign season issues served up to them, some GOP candidates took the cue and began bringing attention on the problem. With an African-American Democrat in the White House, it was easy for those seeking to unseat President Obama to make the accusation that his administration’s policies were responsible for “causing” this crisis among this particular demographic, and “reveal” the failures of his policies. Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has referred to President Obama as “the most successful food stamp president,” an all-too subtle racial jab as his being both black and [perceptually] “liberal.” Fellow contender Michele Bachmann noted that "This president has failed the Hispanic community. He has failed the African-American community" when it comes to the issue of high unemployment among these traditionally Democratic voting groups.
Ordinarily, this would be a welcome focus. But in an early election season, a time when political opportunism is seized without a second’s hesitation by those jockeying amongst a crowd of contenders for top billing in the polls, the sudden “interest” in the plight of black males is suspect to say the least. Although most Americans know all too-well this phenomenon of election season “awareness” and “concern” of voter issues by Republicans and Democrats, black males have always seemingly been an overlooked demographic, election season or not.
So when Gingrich and Bachmann blame President Obama for his inaction in addressing black (male) unemployment, they fail to mention that same lack concern from their own party in Congress is a contributing factor. Even as they accuse Obama of failing black males, “Republican leadership has not considered or introduced one single jobs bill,” according to Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO). Democrats, whom the majority of African-Americans’ have traditionally given their voting allegiance to since the days of FDR, haven’t been that much more helpful on the issue. The pitiful few Democratic legislators supporting the even fewer number of legislative initiatives introduced in Congress attempting to address this issue reflects the near-apathetic level of concern among even their political party.
Trying to discern which action—or lack thereof—is more shameful, Republicans trying to exploit the long-existing socioeconomic troubles of black males for political gain or relative Democratic inaction with regards to addressing the issue (despite unswerving allegiance by black voters) is almost a lose-lose proposition. But whichever the more dishonorable act, many black males are unable to partake in even the most minimalist aspect of the American Dream…employment.
Why are so many black males unemployed? The answer(s) is/are a convergence of socioeconomic factors meeting on the corners of individual selfishness and market realities boulevards.
Among the individually selfish reasons for high unemployment among black males are black males themselves. Many black men are simply not participating in the lives of young black males (who have the highest unemployment rate among the highest unemployed demographic), with whom they could be a key asset in preparing them for a competitive national employment market. Fathers, community leaders, business owners, and other otherwise
socially and economically productive male figures should be among the obvious first-liners in crafting positive images among future black men, while directly or indirectly mentoring them. Roles models for this group are desperately needed, and such civic-mindedness would go a long way towards making a difference in the numbers. Sagging pants, recreational drug use, young fatherhood, inappropriate slang use, and unprofessional behavior with regards to employment needs to be discouraged, while job/employment skills, a sense of responsibility, a professional appearance and demeanor, appreciation and emphasis on education, and training need to be instilled in these potential economic resources (and to put too fine a point on the issue, black women—despite the will, good intentions, and/or attempts by many—simply are not up to the task of helping young black boys become productive and employed adult males). Growing up in the 1970s and even into the early 1980s, it was not uncommon—at least for me—to see older black males showing younger black males how to perform work-related tasks around the house, in the neighborhood, or even taking them to work with them (as many more were more economically stable enough to do so).
Ineffective Practices & Shifting Economic Trends
After ill-preparation from lack of family and community support, perhaps the biggest factor contributing to the high unemployment rate is an outdated public education system model. An over emphasis on designating many young black males as being special needs or placement in special education does not help. Lack of direct parental participation and support (outside of the occasional visit to the principal’s office to address disciplinary problems), lack of an emphasis on discipline, strong curriculums which resist political pressure (and negative parental interference), early intervention for potential issues interfering with education, and laws which allow many young people to drop out of school are all absent in a public education dynamic more conducive to encouraging failure rather than success for many young black males. And with more and more local school districts cutting back on already substantively anemic educational curriculums, difference-makers like vocational programs, high school co-op, career-track curriculum- building and counseling have all but become extinct.
With a lack of appreciation for (or an emphasis on) secondary and higher education, many black males who graduated from public schools tended to head immediately into employment, mostly in vocations which required little in the way of education beyond the basics such as manufacturing, construction and certain segments of the service industry. Many of these jobs have evaporated, especially in the last decade due to shifting market trends. And with the lack of career diversity among many males in general and black males in particular, many simply did not and do not have other career options outside of the most menial, most low-paying offerings…or criminal activity.
On that point, many black males have criminal records, which make them undesirable as potential employees, which segues into another reason for so many black unemployed males, discrimination.
Dr. Rodney Green, chairman of the economics department at Howard University and the executive director of the university’s Center for Urban Progress sums up the situation best:
There has been a consistent pattern of black male unemployment rates that are twice the unemployment of white, even in good or bad times,” Green said. He said this is due to continuing discrimination against black males in the labor market and also a split in the labor market where job loss is greatest in industries that employ large numbers of African-Americans such as construction, service and retail.
In the final analysis, even in the best economic times, when black males manage to overcome socioeconomic disadvantages, possess education backgrounds comparable to other successful males from other ethnic groups, and lack criminal records, employers will invariably still manage to overlook these individuals based on some minor prejudice or preference—conscious or not (a reality which I can personally attest to).
In an effort to address this issue—and to prove that not all public servants are oblivious to this issue—a few in Washington have opted to tackle the issue. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have taken up the cause, drafting and introducing some 40 bills in Congress in an effort to marshal the power of government to do what the private sector is clearly not up to task to do insofar as the high rate of unemployment among African-American males. Members of the CBC like Cleaver have introduced legislative initiatives such as his-14 House Democrat-sponsored Urban Jobs Act, mean to provide training and other related services to at-risk youth preparing to enter the work force through the allocation of federal grant money to already established programs (http://politic365.com/2011/05/18/urban-jobs-act-seeks-to-address-youth-unemployment-crisis/). But in the defense of the lack of Republican support on the issue, the support of only 14 Democrats is hardly something which Democrats can tout as “concern.” It says that there is the lack of concern is being exhibited by both parties, and that maybe there is something to the Republican accusation that Democrats take the African-American vote for granted.
The lack of legislative success has spurred the CBC to take drastic action in the form of its For the People Jobs Initiative, a cross-country roving job fair of sorts, scheduled to visit many of the most hard-hit urban areas where black unemployment is at it highest beginning this summer. With a schedule start in Chicago, the initiative will be comprised of more than just a roving job fair. Each two-day stop will also incorporate a town hall meeting in which job seekers can offer feedback and describe their employment challenges in cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Los Angeles. And despite the lack of broad initial Democratic and Republican support, the CBC plans to continue introducing legislation based community response and feedback gathered at from its cross-country tour, and culminating in the commission of a jobs advisory council of top black economic and business experts. It is hoped that the end result will a report proposing a long-term solution for job creation and economic growth.
So while certain politicians—including members of Congress—seemed more concerned with holding town hall meetings regarding “attacks on our Constitutional rights” from health care reform, they neglected addressing an issue that had already been problematic in the black and urban communities. If conservatives want to reach out to black voters, blaming a president they voted for overwhelmingly for his lack of directly addressing such a crucial issue, all the while engaging in the same lack of concern is not the way to do so. And if liberals (actual and self-professed) want to give only half-hearted support to concerns which affect those who blindly support their political representatives, then perhaps it would be best for African-Americans to adopt a swing-block voting attitude.
Even more so, it would be sensible for African-Americans males to take to the streets and rally in much the same way they did during the Million Man March of the mid-1990s and politicize an issue of such vital importance to their economic livelihoods. At any rate, its time to make the high rate of unemployment among black males an issue for the next campaign season.