Nearly one in five black men around the country is unemployed. In New York City, the unemployment rate for black men is twice as high as for white women. And millions of black men are neither working nor considered "unemployed" because they have left the labor force altogether. While jobless rates rose in the recession, blacks—and especially black men—have since at least the 1940s fared substantially worse in the job market than whites, even those with roughly comparable skills.
Now, black lawmakers are pressuring the Obama administration to focus federal help on areas of high unemployment. They want the President to address the interplay between race and the recession (which, as economic statistics roll in, might or might not have ended in the last quarter of 2009).
But among the many complexities facing policymakers is the fact that the population of out of work black men is not monolithic. It includes teens and the middle-aged, ex-convicts and former entrepreneurs, the college educated and the high school dropout. And while black male unemployment is the highest, Latino men are also out of work at far rates far higher than for whites.
The unemployed include men like John Tyus, 46, who lives in Crown Heights and has been unemployed for two and a half years since quitting a job as a stockbroker for an unsuccessful attempt to start his own business.
"I'm surprised at the process. It's just taking a lot longer to find something than I ever anticipated. I thought I had skills that would translate," he says.
Divorced but helping to support two seven-year-old children, Tyus says the impact of his unemployment has been that "all your plans you had where you were creating the future or this idea of what the future would be are put on hold." He adds: "You wind up with ways of making do. You aren't actually making progress. If you wanted to send your kids to school--maybe you were thinking of private school. That's out."
Tyus interviews four or five times a week. "Either you're too qualified or they'll think about it. It's a very hurtful thing for a person 15 or 20 years younger than you to tell you you don't have experience. It's a little frustrating." Tyus knows he could get a job at a fast food restaurant or a cell phone store. "Those jobs pay $7.50- an hour," he says. "It's less than the unemployment that you receive. You'd be hurting your family instead of helping, if you got the job."
How has race influenced his chances? "I'm sure it has in some way, shape or form. People don't intentionally use race as a factor. People hire their own, or at least people who would fit into the mold of their organization."