Already facing disproportionately high levels of unemployment due to systemic racial discrimination, the recession removed job opportunities for nearly half of those with diplomas and eligible for work.
The authors of a new study by the Economic Policy Institute write, “in the first half of this year, the black employment-to-population ratio for recent high school graduates dropped to 49.7%. Thus, only half of black recent high school graduates are working.”
With over one-third of the country’s workforce having earned only a high school degree, such alarmingly high unemployment numbers portend a dismal economic future.
These trends continue for black college graduates, albeit at lower rates. The report says, “Among recent college graduates, once again African Americans are the worst off. In the first half of 2007, the unemployment rate for black recent college graduates was 8.4%. The unemployment rate for this group peaked in the last half of 2009 at 16.7%. In the first half of this year it has fallen to 15.4%.”
Significantly, black college graduates also are burdened with much higher student load debt than their counterparts. “More than a quarter of black bachelor’s degree recipients had over $30,000 in debt in 2008.”
Not surprisingly, these trends are repeated for Latinos high school graduates. “The Hispanic unemployment rate rose from 8.8% in the first half of 2007 to 23.8% in the first half of this year.”
Latino college graduates who momentarily saw employment levels match their white counterparts experienced a dramatic drop as the economic crisis deepened. “By the second half of 2009, the Hispanic [unemployment] rate was nearly double the white rate.”
When the large numbers of black and brown youth without high school degrees are added to the equation the economic situation becomes even more stark. Educationweek.org writes, “Although more than three-quarters of white and Asian students in the United States earn a diploma, the numbers are much more troubling for other demographic groups, only about half of whom graduate. Among Latinos, 56 percent successfully finish high school, while just 54 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Native Americans graduate.”
Alarmingly, many of these youth end up in jail. From one in ten in 1980 to nearly 37 percent today. Three quarters of this category are unemployed.
The demand for jobs as articulated in Washington DC on October 2nd by the One Nation Coalition rally remains a central task before the country.
Last winter during Black History month, Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard called for a youth-led civil rights revolution around the struggle for jobs.
Gerald’s call has never rung so true or been so urgent.
Photo: Students at a project to increase racial and gender diversity in the building trades in Philadelphia. Ben Years/PW