Are Young Black Males America's Job Untouchables?
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, AlterNet
November 17, 2003
An astronomically high number of young black males are not just jobless, they are also in mortal danger of becoming job untouchables. According to the Labor Department, nearly forty percent of young blacks are now unemployed. This comes on the heels of the Bush administration's tout of the increase in more than 100,000 new jobs in the past few months.
The high jobless numbers for young blacks stunned the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. They reflexively blamed President Bush for the high unemployment numbers. They claimed that his fiscal and economic policies have resulted in the loss of millions of jobs during his years in office. They demand that he radically increase funding for job training programs and provide more tax incentives for the working poor.
But the jobless crisis among young blacks is not new and can't be totally blamed on Bush's dubious fiscal and economic policies. Even during the Clinton-era economic boom, the unemployment rate for young black males was double, and in some parts of the country triple, that of white males. Discrimination, racial profiling, failing public schools, and broken homes are the easy answers that explain their Great Depression-era high unemployment numbers.
During the past couple of years, state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, the brutal competition for low and semi-skilled service and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records have sledgehammered black communities. In the late 1990s, long before the big run up in black unemployment, the California Assembly Commission on the Status of the African-American Males reported that four out of ten felons entering California prisons are young black males. Despite the recent Census figures that show a modest jump in the number of black two-parent households, less than half of lower income black males under age twenty-one still live in two parent households.
The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st Century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian, and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has slowed down.
The negative racial typing has also spilled over into school discipline. The U.S. Dept. of Education in its latest report on school discipline revealed that, though blacks make up less than twenty percent of public school students, they comprise nearly one out of three students kicked out of the nation's public schools.
But there's another reason for the endemic joblessness that black leaders are loath to admit. While it's true that many employers refuse to hire them because of racial fear and ignorance, it's equally true that many young blacks feed that fear and ignorance by their own actions. The urban riots of the 1990s reinforced white fears that all young black males are inherent drive-by-shooters, gang bangers, drug dealers, are lazy, have foul attitudes, are chronic underachievers, and eternal menaces to society. When some young blacks turned to gangs, guns and drugs and terrorized their communities, that seemed to confirm their worst fears. The explosion of gangsta rap and the spate of Hollywood violence themed ghetto films have convinced even more Americans that the thug lifestyle is the black lifestyle. They have ghastly visions of the boys-in-the-hoods heading for their neighborhoods next. No matter whether a young black is a Rhodes scholar, National Science medal winner or junior achievement candidate, he could be tagged as a gangster.
In the past few years, a rogue's list of rappers have been assaulted, murdered or run afoul of the law. They revel in the bad actor lifestyle and play hard on the us-versus-them volcanic rage of many young blacks. They reap a king's ransom from exploiting the violent, outlaw image of black life. Many young black men reinforce the damaging racial stereotypes by aping and exulting the thuggish bluster and behavior of gangster rappers. This further confirms the lurking suspicion among some employers that all young blacks must be criminal and derelict, and that it's risky business to hire them.
The Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Democrats must relentlessly challenge government and business to do more to end discrimination and create more job and training opportunities for young blacks. But that's not enough.
They must also challenge young blacks to do more to stop aiding and abetting their own shove to the netherworld of the American economy by reinforcing the destructive stereotypes about themselves.