A high rate of African-American unemployment and its implications present a serious social and economic problem for the American society. Multiple episodes of chronic unemployment, disproportionately high imprisonment rate among African Americans, and lack of job training are just some of the reasons why there are high rates of black unemployment and a low level of African-American participation in the labor force. The problem of African-American unemployment is complex since high unemployment rate among members of African-American communities is the result of both contemporary socio-economic dynamics and decades of discriminatory practices on the part of employers. The purpose of this paper is to determine magnitude of African-American unemployment, identify reasons behind it, describe the role of the government, private employers, and African Americans in remedying the situation, and recommend possible solutions to the problem.
Magnitude of African-American Unemployment
The current research and data demonstrate that unemployment rates among African-American population in the US are higher than among Caucasians, Asians, and Hispanic. Austin (2011) states that white unemployment rates have been remaining nearly two times lower than the black ones since the 1960s and argues that the crisis of African-American unemployment requires federal intervention. Austin (2011) and the United States Department of Labor (2011) claim that Blacks are two times more likely than whites to have ten or more periods of prolonged unemployment during their prime working years. As statistics show, the unemployment rates among African Americans in large metropolitan areas such as Detroit and Chicago are from two to two and a half times higher than white unemployment rates (Austin, 2011). A comparison of Wards 3 and 8 in Washington, D.C. persuasively demonstrate the magnitude of black unemployment. Austin (2011) states that while the Ward 3 with 78 percent of white residents had 3.2 percent unemployment rate, the Ward 8 with 94 percent of African-American residents had 28.7 percent of unemployment rate. The author explains that the problem of African-American unemployment leads to a host of problems in African-American communities. These problems include racial segregation, low educational level, lack of skills to remain employable, higher incarceration rates among African Americans, and a higher number of single-parent households. Since the black unemployment rate has been remaining significantly higher than the white unemployment rate for decades, African Americans experienced poorer social, educational, and economic outcomes.
The magnitude of unemployment is greater among African Americans than among other ethnic groups. The unemployment rates among African Americans and Native Americans are the highest (over ten percent) in comparison with other ethnic groups (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). As Wilson (2015) explains, the black unemployment rate is more volatile with respect to changes in a labor market. In other words, market downturns and labor market fluctuations affect African-American households to disproportionately higher degree. Moreover, since African Americans are frequently paid lower wages, retention rates among them are higher. Furthermore, even among employed African Americans, full-time employment is relatively rare (Wilson, 2015). Therefore, market downturns and labor unfavorable market conditions contribute to high black unemployment rates.
Other facts about labor force in America corroborate the notion that unemployment among African Americans is a serious social and economic problem. The US Department of Labor (2011) states that African Americans are twice less likely to be self-employed or employed in the private sector than whites, and that historically, Blacks have had higher unemployment rates than other major ethnic groups. Furthermore, Blacks are more vulnerable to layoffs and underrepresented in professional and business services and manufacturing sectors of economy that currently experience the greatest job growth (US Department of Labor, 2011). Moreover, African-American adults have nearly the lowest labor force participation rate (61.2 percent) and employment rate (54.3 percent) among all ethnic groups. Additionally, adult Black men are the least likely to participate in the labor force in comparison with men of other ethnicities (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015, p.2, 3). Therefore, as recent data demonstrates, the magnitude of unemployment and its negative social and economic repercussions are significantly greater among African Americans than in any other ethnic groups.
Reasons for Higher Rates of African-American Unemployment
There are economic and social reasons explaining higher rates of African-American unemployment in comparison with unemployment rates among other ethnic groups. The US Department of Labor (2011) lists the following reasons for disproportionately high black unemployment rates. First, lower educational attainment and a lower average educational level lead to poor employment outcomes. However, even Blacks with a bachelor’s, college, or an associate’s degree still report two times higher unemployment rate than whites with the same degrees. Second, since many African Americans live in economically-depressed areas, they have fewer opportunities for employment (US Department of Labor, 2011). Living in such areas means that African Americans have several employment-related disadvantages. For instance, longer commute time in depressed areas means that Blacks have lower chances to find jobs near their homes. Additionally, employment growth in depressed areas is low (US Department of Labor, 2011). Thus, too few new jobs are created to satisfy adequately the demand for employment in African-American communities. Third, living in economically-depressed areas among many unemployed persons decreases the access of African Americans seeking jobs to social networks, thus reducing their chances of finding jobs through referrals (US Department of Labor, 2011). Pager and Shepherd (2008) state that residential segregation is another reason that limits employment opportunities. They explain that discrimination in rental and housing markets and subsequent segregation lead to the concentration of Blacks in the areas with limited residential opportunities and argue that the key implication of such segregation is a limited access to employment opportunities. Therefore, lower educational attainment and educational level and living predominantly in economically-depressed areas are some of the chief reasons behind higher unemployment rates among Blacks.
Another factor that affects employment rates of African Americans negatively is racial discrimination in employment that contributes to disparities in a contemporary labor market. Pager and Shepherd (2008) and Francis (2016) argue that white applicants have fifty to two-hundred-and-forty percent higher probability to be hired than African-American applicants with similar job experience and educational level. As a result of such discriminatory hiring practices, black applicants spend significantly more time looking for jobs, acquire less work experience, and experience less stable employment than white applicants with similar skills and qualifications (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Additionally, Pager and Shepherd (2008) explain that since the jobs of many African Americans are concentrated in sectors with a low level of stability, they experience involuntary unemployment more frequently. Hence, the discrimination in employment due to racial prejudice serves as another barrier to labor market entry by Blacks.
However, there are more reasons that lead to unequal employment outcomes. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (n.d.) identified several obstacles that contribute to greater unemployment rates among African Americans. Besides already discussed biased perceptions of African Americans, the lack of networking opportunities, insufficient training, education, and work experience, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (n.d.) describes such reasons for unequal employment as narrow recruitment methods, the perception of widespread inequality by African Americans that creates attitudes of hopelessness and stifles their motivation to seek employment, and a failure of organizations to follow and enforce regulations that promote equal employment.
The barrier of narrow recruitment methods means that employers use recruitment practices that do not tap into the greater pool of applicants including Blacks. The perception of widespread inequality means that African Americans experience a disillusionment associated with discriminatory employment practices and lack motivation to pursue employment opportunities in the face of unfavorable circumstances. For example, James (2015) explains that some African Americans give up looking for jobs because they experience subtle prejudice and racism as well as presumed incompetence when applying for jobs. Another reason for higher unemployment rates is a failure of governmental agencies and private organizations to follow and enforce policies and regulations that promote equal employment opportunities. Therefore, the main reasons for higher rates of African-American unemployment include lower educational level and attainment among African Americans, living predominantly in economically-depressed areas, racial discrimination in employment, narrow recruitment methods used by employers, lack of motivation on the part of African-American job seekers, and insufficient adherence to and enforcement of policies and regulations that promote equal employment.
The Role of the Government and Private Employers in Providing More Employment Opportunities for African Americans
The US government and public sector as well as private employees can reduce unemployment rates among African Americans. For example, as it was noted earlier, the US Department of Labor (2011) states that African Americans are twice less likely to be employed in the private sector than whites. Therefore, private employers can do more to employ higher numbers of black applicants. As Austin (2011) argues, the crisis of African-American unemployment requires federal intervention. Thus, the government should develop and implement interventions aimed at the reduction of the black unemployment rate. The US Department of Labor (2011) explains that relevant governmental agencies should provide African-American job seekers with skills, employment services, and income support necessary to link applicants with potential employers and help those seeking employment with well-paid jobs in the future. The government can invest in the following initiatives to reduce black unemployment rates:
- investing in employment opportunities for African-American youth by offering young people education and employment programs, providing educational opportunities, and training low-income youth at risk;
- developing and implementing programs aimed at reintegrating ex-offenders back to labor force;
- conducting training for African Americans to prepare them for jobs in emerging and fast growing industries;
- achieving greater presence in communities with vulnerable workers via executing community outreach and resource planning programs aimed for increasing employment;
- designing and executing programs that revitalize economically-depressed neighborhood, put people to work rehabilitation homes, and modernize schools serving low-income students (US Department of Labor, 2011);
- providing funds for local authorities to develop direct public sector employment (Austin, 2011);
- enforcing non-discrimination policies and regulations that promote equal employment (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.).
Private employers can also provide more employment opportunities for African
Americans. First, they should refrain from discrimination in their hiring practices and give equal opportunities to African-American applicants (Pager & Shepherd, 2008). Second, private sector employers can cooperate with governmental agencies by participating in programs aimed at facilitating greater employment among African Americans. For example, human resource departments of private businesses can tap into the pool of African-American applicants in order to select candidates already prepared and trained through programs offered by the government. Third, employers can develop and implement strategic human resource management plans to achieve greater workplace diversity (James, 2015). Finally, private employers can consider expanding their operation to economically-depressed areas to simultaneously exploit existing business opportunities and provide employment to African Americans residing in those areas.
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The Role of African Americans in Improving Their Employment Prospects
However, besides the initiatives of the US government and private employers targeting the problem of a high black unemployment rate, there are things that African Americans should and can do for improving their labor force status and employment prospects and reducing labor market disparities. Pager and Shepherd (2008) point out that many private employers refrain from hiring African Americans since the former believe that human capital characteristics of Blacks such as motivation, reliability, interpersonal skills, and punctuality do not meet their expectations. In other words, there is a biased perception of African-American workforce. On the contrary, Pager and Shepherd (2008) believe that racial discrimination is not single or the most important factor that affect the availability of employment opportunities for African-American population. They state that in some instances, poor employment outcomes among Blacks may result from poor individual outcomes such as lack of marketable skills and motivation, insufficient educational level, and insufficient work experience. Additionally, Lofstrom and Bates (2007) as well as Bogan and Darity (2008) point out that the low rate of self-employed African Americans in comparison with other ethnic groups is another contributor to higher unemployment rates among Blacks. Hence, African Americans should pursue self-employment opportunities more actively to drive up their employment rates.
Therefore, African Americans can play their roles in raising their own labor force status and improving employment prospects. First, applicants should strive to develop such characteristics as motivation, reliability, interpersonal skills, and punctuality. Second, they should look for improving their educational attainment and raising their educational level. Third, African Americans can work on developing their marketable skills and gaining relevant work experience. Lastly, they should pursue self-employment opportunities more actively.
The analysis of magnitude of African-American unemployment, the reasons behind it, the role of the government, private employers, and African Americans in alleviating unemployment, and possible solutions to the problem helped to determine the following. First, the problem of unemployment is significantly greater among African Americans and their communities than among whites, Hispanic, and Asian Americans. Second, the main reasons for high unemployment rates include lower educational attainment, lower level of education, living predominantly in economically-depressed areas, racial discrimination in employment, narrow recruiting policies, lack of networking opportunities, lack of marketable skills and motivation on the part of African-American job seekers, and insufficient adherence to and enforcement of policies and regulations that promote equal employment. Therefore, the government, private employers, and African Americans should be proactive, take initiative, and do their part to reduce employment inequality and diminish unemployment rates among African Americans.
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