According to new studies, unemployment among African Americans in New York City continues to increase at a higher pace than for whites, and the gap appears to be widening at an accelerating speed, says The New York Times. Job losses in the city continues to show a wider racial gap.

In a new report by the city’s comptroller’s office, unemployment figures rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year. However, the number for Blacks rose four times as fast. The report finds there were about 80,000 more unemployed Blacks than whites by the end of March, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than Blacks residing there.

A large percentage of layoffs in New York City have been in areas where Blacks are underrepresented such as the finance and professional services. Yet economists say most Blacks in those sectors may have less seniority when it comes to actual layoffs. A high percent of Blacks share jobs in retailing and other service related industries, areas that have been shrinking especially where buyers continue to spend less due to the economic crisis.

Unemployment rates for Blacks have historically always been higher than for whites, says the Times. But since December 2007 and the start of the current recession, the overall rate has risen by 4.6 percentage points – driving the unemployment rate for Blacks as high as 15 percent in April.

The rate of joblessness among Blacks nationwide was 8.9 percent in the first quarter of 2008, compared with 4.8 percent for whites. Unemployment among Blacks has risen to 13.6 percent in the first quarter of 2009, while the rate for whites had gone to 8.2 percent.

Policy experts and public officials in New York say there is a much sharper trend in the city where the overall unemployment rate hit a 12-year high of nine percent in May. Joblessness in New York City rose to 14.7 percent in the first quarter, up from 5.7 percent in the first quarter of 2008. At the same time the number of whites unemployed rose to 3.7 percent from three percent. The data suggests that Blacks were four times as likely as whites to be out of work.

Many wonder if these trends are racially motivated. Blacks and Latinos who have been laid off are usually lower-wage workers, those that due the bulk of the work, compared to management, which is mostly white. Some argue the recession has hit communities of color disproportionately.

James Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, for example, pointed out that employment with the Postal Service in New York City has declined by about 2,000 jobs, many of which were held by African Americans.

Parrott compared jobs data for the 12 months through April 30 with the previous one-year period. He found that white New Yorkers had gained jobs while Blacks and other minority residents lost them.

According to Parrott’s figures whites gained about 130,000 jobs in the year that ended April 30 over the previous 12 months. But Blacks, Latinos and Asians all lost jobs during that period. Employment fell by about 17,000 jobs for Blacks, 26,000 for Latinos and 18,000 for Asians and other ethnic groups.

“There’s a real racial shift taking place in the city’s labor market in the past year,” the Times quoted Parrott as saying.

Although city officials are looking into the mass firings in high-paying industries such as the financial and legal services, consulting and publishing, those cutbacks account for less than half of the 108,000-job decline since joblessness in the city peaked last August.

The overall economy along with unemployment has also reached other ethnic communities in New York, yet none as sharply as Blacks.

For example, among Latinos, the rate rose to 9.3 percent in the first quarter of this year from 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2008. The Times points out that among Asians and other ethnic classifications, the rate rose to 7.1 percent from 5.5 percent.

Labor and public policy advocates say unemployment data could hit double-digit figures very soon and the federal government should not waste any time to solve the crisis. The unemployment rate is only going to get worse, they claim. People’s organizations and civil rights groups should be prepared to lead mass actions in order to addressing the reality of the current economic climate unfairly targeting communities of color.

According to the blog, Jobs or Income Now, the reality of double-digit unemployment figures should trigger a massive jobs program initiated by the federal government.

The blog notes unemployment figures should factor the tens of thousands of jobless who have given up seeking work which would put the low double-digit figure goes close to 15 percent. This sector is not even counted in the current nine plus percent, says the blog.

The blog states, “Clearly, the administration and Congress needs to immediately set up a triggering mechanism that will set off the government becoming the employer of the last resort. Yes, just like in the 1930s.”

Congress must extend unemployment compensation to make sure that those on unemployment insurance will continue to receive their benefits for another 26 weeks, notes the blog.

Permanent government jobs are actually a good solution and construction work on the highways, bridges and roads as well as in the public transportation system would be beneficial, says the blog.

If the federal government hired workers to do such jobs, then they would be brought into the American Federation of Government Employees. Union jobs at livable wages is a win-win deal, notes the blog. Plus workers could have a grievance procedure to protect their working rights as well as health and pension benefits.

The blog continues, “Giving money to construction companies on a sub-contracting basis just adds to the cost and far less work would be done; and workers employed would be far less. There is a good chance, also, that these jobs will not be union jobs.”

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