A new Labor Department study finds that not only have blacks in New York City been disproportionately affected by the recession, the aftermath of it all has proven even crueler. Most displaced and disenfranchised African Americans are finding it far more difficult to reenter the workforce than any other demographic. Those recently new to the workplace are finding it virtually impossible to so much as get their careers off the ground.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, well over 50 percent of all blacks from across the city deemed old enough to work were unemployed all of last year, even as the local economy showed vast signs of at least a moderate recovery. Non-Hispanic blacks apparently were likewise viewed as persona non grate, demonstrating unemployment totals dismally on par with those of African Americans.
On average, blacks who have lost a job in NYC or were laid off now spend more than a full year trying to reemerge in a new position, while the average time frame for most whites stands at roughly less than half that time.
David R. Jones, president and chief executive of the Community Service Society, an agency that provides services to poor and low-income New Yorkers, has studied much of the data. He has now emerged with the theory that blacks were overrepresented in the fields that suffered the greatest downturn during the recession, fields such as manufacturing and government.
“It’s being in the wrong place in the economy,” he lamented in a New York Times interview. “So the recovery is not trickling down to these workers.”
Not surprising to many of the most affected, Jones also uncovered several other disturbing trends over the course of his analysis, chief among them the inability of lesser educated and lesser skilled workers to find work for even more extended periods of time. Equally jarring, Jones found that about half of all people holding jobs as security guards and the like had a bachelor’s degree or at least some advanced level of college education.
“But the wage didn’t go up,” he said. “This is a low-wage job. It pays $10 an hour with no health insurance.”
Kevin Starkes, a 53-year-old accountant from the Bronx knows the pinch all too well. He’s been out of work now for nearly four months and in that time has painfully come to form his own hypotheses.
“Employers are getting more for less,” he said. “People who used to get a job with a bachelor’s degree now need a master’s. I just think that’s the state of the economy right now.”
As someone who’s been out of work, at least on a full-time basis since 2009, Latoya Ingram feels Starkes’ pain— and then some. The 33-year-old Ingram, who holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Syracuse University, insists she has sent out more than a thousand copies of her resume and undergone countless interviews.
In the face of all that, Ingram has come to be convinced that race may indeed be playing a factor in all her hard knock luck in becoming gainfully employed.
“I could be wrong, but I’ve had interviews, and they seem really, really interested,” she said. “Then they see me in person and they’re not that interested,” added Ingram, who has been subsisting on the $215 in weekly unemployment benefits she receives. “I think it’s a combination of being black and overweight: they think you are lazy.”
All the dimmed prospects and faded hopes have been enough to erode the pursuits of many blacks and move the Labor Department to create another sector of victims it now terms as “discouraged workers” or those who have given up looking for work after experiencing the traumatization of long term unemployment. Government officials estimate that since the recession hit in 2008, the number of all such victims has more than tripled.
Authorities add that four years ago the number of discouraged black and white workers across the city were nearly on par at around 12,000. Since that time the figures for blacks have increased to nearly 40,000 while the numbers for whites have topped out at almost less than half of that.
Over roughly that same time frame, the city’s overall poverty rate has risen by 1.3 percent or to 21 percent, the largest increase the area has known since NYC officials adopted a new definition for defining poverty nearly a decade ago.
Overall, only 49 percent of all blacks of working age were gainfully employed ending last May, drastically down from the 55 percent that were so privileged ending in May of 2008, a time when the city’s economy was considered to be in high gear. Nationally about 53 percent of all blacks are found to be employed compared to 60 percent of whites.
All this at a time when NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg was trumpeted his city as a place where “private sector job gains are the best in 60 years and represent another hopeful sign for our economic recovery.” Bloomberg added “industries like tech, tourism and entertainment are helping to diversify our economy, and that means all New Yorkers will have better opportunities in the long term.”
Such a time truly does seem fleeting to Bronx native Wayne Nesmith, a 45-year-old clinical associate for Educational Research at nearby Touro College. Nesmith fears his livelihood may now being in jeopardy as funding for that program virtually runs dry.
“I definitely believe it is more adverse for African-Americans,” he said. “But you don’t give up, and you don’t give in.”