Monday, March 4, 2013

Work Disappearing for Black Males in Urban America

by Norm Bond,

During the past four decades, the job market for working age African American males has fundamentally collapsed in urban America. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by Dr. Marc Levine at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He looked at “employment rates” in forty of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas based on every Census taken from 1970 to 2010.

The results are shared in “Race and Male Employment in Wake of the Great Recession: Black Male Employment Rates in Milwaukee and the Nation’s Largest Metro Areas 2010“. The findings are stunning and should be a wake-up call to the entire nation, particularly community activists, policymakers, media and the Black community.

Black male employment is a crisis with no solutions on the table and faint discussion of the problem. Levine finds that in five of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, fewer than half of the working-age Black males held jobs. The US Census defines “working age” as 16-64, and “prime working years” as 25-54. In Milwaukee, the Black male employment rate in 2010 (latest year available) was over 20 points lower than the Hispanic male rate and 32.7 percentage points lower than that of white males.

Why does Levine, look at employment rates, instead of the more commonly reported unemployment rates? Today many economic experts agree that the “unemployment rate statistic” is “seriously flawed and often misleading” in gauging labor market performance. The official unemployment rate only includes those who “do not have a job, have actively looked for work in the prior four weeks, and are currently available for work“. This narrow definition ignores discouraged workers and those “marginally attached” to the labor market.

It also removes the tens of thousands of Black men sitting in U.S. jails - since they are “not available”. Adds David Leonhardt of The New York Times, “It’s simply no longer the best barometer of the country’s economic health.” Instead, the “employment-population” ratio, better known as the “employment rate” provides a truer picture. It really provides a better indicator of the extent to which the working age population in a community is actually working.

Here are some insights from the report:

• In 2010, in only two of the largest forty metro areas (Washington, D.C. and Dallas) was the Black male employment rate higher than 60 percent.

• In only two of the largest forty metro areas, (Portland and Detroit) was the employment rate for white males lower than 70 percent. So while Black men cannot exceed 60 percent actually working, a minimum of 70 percent of white men are actually working — in the forty largest metros in America.

• By 2009 even though working-age Black males outnumbered Hispanic males by 55% in Milwaukee, there were more Hispanic male production workers (7,200) than Black male production workers (4,842) in the region.

• The top-ranked Black male employment rate in Washington, DC was lower than even the lowest white male employment rate in any of the forty large metropolitan areas examined in the study.

The study points to some policies that should be considered to counter the findings including:

• Public job creation and leveraging

• Enhanced training and job placement

• Drug policy reform and public health policy

• Enhanced procurement by large businesses and large public and non-profit institutions from inner-city enterprises

• Strategies to better integrate the inner-city economy into the regional economy

So while the nation moves into a debate around which party is going to do the best for “all of America” where is the conversation regarding the disappearance of work for Black men?