Skip to content

One in three African Americans out of work


The first Friday of the month is a day when economists like me are riveted to the news. We want to know what’s up with the unemployment rate, and with the changes that have taken place in the last month. Last week, our nation learned that we treaded water. The unemployment rate remained at a high of 9.1 percent, 8 percent for White folks, and 16 percent for Black folks.
Some pundits were jazzed at the rates, thinking that they meant we are doing OK. What’s OK? The real unemployment rate for African Americans is close to 30 percent.

This means that a third of the Black world is not working. This means that there are too many Black folk who are tripping. This means that too many are managing pain. And with the Congress ignoring that reality and failing to offer the relief via the jobs bill, this means that nobody cares.

I hear from people all the time. Their stories are heart-rending. They talk about the lives they once had, and the lives they now have. Once upon a time, they had homes, mortgages and opportunities. Now they have lost jobs, homes, and their opportunities have faded. They are the folk who stand in the middle of the statistics. We know the numbers, but we don’t know their pain.

The pain is more acute for African Americans than it is for others. President Barack Obama has not fully addressed that, although his spirited anger at the recent Congressional Black Caucus dinner was a great step in the right direction. Still, I have to think that if there were a crisis in Appalachia or in New Mexico, there would be a more invigorated response. Instead, Black folks are unemployed and nobody really cares.

Go to church and count it out. If there are three people huddled over water, one of them is unemployed. If there are three people passing out programs, one of them is unemployed. If there are three people, or four, or five, or six, this pox called unemployment has visited them. Who is he, who is she? Mother, father, brother. Sister, somebody who brought a quarter to the table, and the quarter isn’t there, not anymore.

In order to just stay even, our nation needs to generate 275,000 jobs each month. Last month, a month where some celebrated our “progress,” we generated just 103,000 jobs. We aren’t moving ahead, we are falling behind. Our reality is that the jobs market is broken and nobody wants to fix it.

Instead, we see a nation at political gridlock. The congressional Republicans don’t want to pass the president’s jobs bill, and they have offered few alternatives. So we sit and wait to see if anyone will break the gridlock that keeps our legislators from moving forward.

This is drama, it is trauma, it is bless you, mama, cause it is overtime for there to be some forward movement.

Perhaps this is not an issue for those whose constituency is enjoying a 9.1 percent unemployment rate. But there are too many who are experiencing much more than that. Throw a stone into the Black community. See who it hits. It is one in three, one in three, one in three. What that means is that the pox called unemployment affects everyone. When the reality of worklessness hits so many, the fact is that it affects us all.

The numbers come out every first Friday. The reality visits our community each and every day. One in three adult African Americans cannot find work. This is a depression-level unemployment rate. People are hurting, but nobody really cares. One in three. One in three. One in three.

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.