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UNEQUAL RECOVERY: Two New Publications Examine Economic Challenges Facing the Black Community Post-Great Recession

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The latest monthly jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor is due this Friday and is likely to show a national unemployment rate that continues to recover from the depths of the so-called “Great Recession,” which plagued the United States from December 2007 until June 2009, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, which serves as the official arbiter of recessions in the United States.

The latest monthly jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor is due this Friday and is likely to show a national unemployment rate that continues to recover from the depths of the so-called “Great Recession,” which plagued the United States from December 2007 until June 2009, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, which serves as the official arbiter of recessions in the United States.

Based on the most recent available data, the national unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in February, down from 9.9 percent at the height of the recession. Even with the recovery well underway, two new publications show that its effects have not been equally felt in the black community.

Black Men and the Struggle for Work,” published in the Spring 2015 issue of Education Next, discusses the educational, economic, and environmental challenges facing blacks—especially black males—and then examines the difficulties that they have traditionally faced in the job market.

The article notes that inner-city black children are “less likely to be enrolled in a high-quality child-care arrangement … clustered in failing [primary] schools … more likely to be suspended or enrolled in special education classes, less likely to graduate from high school on time, and, indeed, more likely to drop out of school altogether.”

The article focuses on young black males, aged sixteen to twenty-four, individuals who are much more likely to be unemployed and disconnected from schools and other training than their white and Hispanic counterparts, as shown in the graph below, which is taken from the article.

“By 2011, after the end of the last recession, more than one-quarter of young black males were neither employed nor enrolled in school or vocational educational training,” the article notes. “The rates for white and Hispanic young people were also very high, around 20 percent, but throughout most of the past few decades rates of disconnection among black youth have been higher than for the other two groups.”Males Aged 16 - 24, by race or ethnicity

The article says that confronting poverty and inequality in the inner city requires an “effective, sustained, and coordinated mission of government-funded institutions to support opportunities for economic self-sufficiency among the poor.” It credits the Obama administration for creating “ladders of opportunity” for youth of color through Promise Neighborhoods, Promise Zones, and other initiatives to “enhance family and community ties and better embed households in networks of institutional supports to improve the in-school and extracurricular experiences of school-age children.” However, it notes that these strategies are, at best, multisite demonstration programs that only meet a fraction of the need. “Congress has seriously hampered the replication and expansion of these programs by refusing the administration’s repeated requests for additional funds,” the article notes.

A second publication—a new issue brief from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI)—delves deeper into the job picture and shows that while unemployment rates for whites and Hispanics are approaching their pre-recession lows, unemployment rates for blacks remain significantly higher five years into recovery from the Great Recession. In fact, among the more than thirty states included in the report, unemployment rates for blacks have returned to pre-Great Recession levels in only two states—Connecticut and South Carolina.

“The unemployment rate for black communities is at a crisis level, even as the economy gets closer and closer to a full recovery,” said report author and EPI economist Valerie Wilson. “Even before the Great Recession, black unemployment has consistently been twice as high as white unemployment. To address this problem, we need to look beyond simply returning to the pre-recession status quo and implement policies aimed at ensuring that everyone who is willing and able to work has a job.”

According to the report, Projected Decline in Unemployment in 2015 Won’t Lift Blacks Out of the Recession-Carved Crater, unemployment rates for whites (4.5 percent) and Hispanics (6.7 percent) in the fourth quarter of 2014 were each within 1 percentage point of their respective levels prior to the Great Recession. At the same time, the unemployment rate for blacks (11 percent), however, was 2.4 percentage points higher than it was at the end of 2007 and higher than the national unemployment rate at the peak of the recession (9.9 percent).

The report includes state-by-state changes in unemployment rates for whites, Hispanics, and blacks since the Great Recession, as well as the unemployment rates in the fourth quarter of 2014. Among individual states, Wisconsin (19.9 percent) has the highest unemployment rate for blacks, followed by Nevada (16.1 percent), Michigan (15.8 percent), the District of Columbia (15.7 percent), and Iowa (15.6 percent). The black unemployment rate in Virginia (8 percent), which is the lowest in the nation, is higher than the highest white unemployment rate (7 percent in Nevada).

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