No Jobs, No Justice: The Black Unemployment Crisis

American Gothic
(Photo Credit :  Gordon Parks)

Give a (wo)man a fish and s/he will eat for a day
Teach a (wo)man to fish and s/he will eat for days
Teach your community to support themselves and you all eat for life

I live in the DC/Maryland/VA (DMV) area, where we boast one of the most highly educated populations in the country. Everything happens here. Want to go into politics? There’s something here for you. Want to teach in one of the nations largest labs for educational experimentation? There’s something here for YOU too. Do you just want to save the world…well you can do that here too, IF you have the papers and the relationships.

The reality for most Americans is not the reality many “Washingtonians” face. In fact as many of you know, unemployment rates are devastating communities across the country. Today over lunch with a friend I got extremely animated while talking about the rates of Black youth unemployment. Today I read the latest unemployment rates. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics Black Americans are experiencing a 16% unemployment rate. That’s 16% of the Black civilian labor force. Now bear with me here.  Our total civilian labor force represents over 17,660,000 people.  This means that 2, 757,000 Black folks are unemployed as of November 2010. This number is derived from those who can legally work, seeking work, are not in the military and are not incarcerated.  So tack on nearly 900, 000 more for the Black men and women currently incarcerated (according to the Sentencing Project).  Prospects for unemployment are even more grim upon re-entry for ex-offenders.

How many of you know someone who makes barely enough to get by?  Underemployment isn’t something we often see vetted in national dialog. People across this country go to work everyday and barely make ends meet. Many of these people work more than one job.

I believe that at the end of the day, MOST people want to work and earn their own money. Given the current reality of our economy, many people simply cannot find work. Where did the jobs go and how do we get them back?

We need a truly inclusive progressive jobs movement.

This poses another natural question; who is the face of the jobs movement? Look around at the narratives we hear from the nations largest grassroots organizations. It’s about the factory worker whose manufacturing job was lost to off shoring in Indonesia. It’s about the former Chrysler worker how lost his/her job to a lack of innovation and corporate greed. Oh and lest I forget, the face has also become the young White female/male who can’t find a job EVEN WITH a fancy degree.  It’s not my Mama or my Cousin. It’s not the Black women and men who have limited employment options beyond fast food restaurants and other service based industries.  Go on almost any corner on the South side of Chicago, in Southeast D.C. or North St. Louis and you will see idle people. These are the people you won’t find on a campaign poster or in a national ad.

Unfortunately it isn’t sexy (or completely legal) to fund jobs just for Black folks. So what do we need? We need targeted job and education programs in areas where Black folks live. Not just in urban areas, but also rural areas. We also need Black folks to be engaged in the decision-making process. The common rhetoric that yes, jobs is an issue for all Americans.  I understand that. We all have to eat. But why not call a spade a spade? The current unemployment rate amongst White Americans is 8.9% that’s almost half that of Black Americans. Almost HALF. Hispanics are not too far behind Black folks at 13.2%. Black and Brown are typically not too far apart.

When the Congressional Black Caucus made a big to do on the Hill about securing jobs for Black Americans, it was problematic. How dare they demand jobs for Black folks? How dare they assert that a Black President ought to express deep concern for the population he drew moral, financial and political support from?  How dare they? Right…Wrong!

I could go on and on about the institutional factors contributing to this reality for Black folks in this country. As they say, when America gets a cold…Black folks get the Plague.  Where is the justice in the national jobs movement for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the halls of Capitol Hill for Black Americans? Where is the justice in the local Ward where people have been unemployed for years? Black issues are simply NOT sexy anymore. Deferring to multiculturalism skims over the meat and bones of reality.

Before we reach the end of this post I will point out one more fact. Nearly 34% of Black youth (aged 16-24) are currently unemployed. We have so much at stake.


In the face of so much struggle in the country we cant forget the struggles of those who have long been struggling. We must build on past successes and chart new courses for the future for ourselves. We need to do so in solidarity with others. We all should be able to eat. I know that until we achieve economic justice, we will have no real justice and no real peace in our streets.



  1. I think one of the reason there is no outrage is because we (meaning Black folks with jobs) don’t see those (unemployed or even underemployed Black folks) so we don’t think there is a problem. While racism is always going to be an issue I believe that classism in our own communities is what lies at the hard of this. I live in Maine but am originally from Chicago and back home both my Dad and my brother (with a masters degree) are struggling to survive. It’s to the point mt Dad is getting ready to move out here with me and start over. Yet when I talk about how hard it is out there financially no one wants to hear it.

    Just found your blog, good stuff!

  2. Troubles of the Black Race

    I think the problem is the same wherever you go as a black person odds are stacked against you.

    I am in Africa but nothing says I inherited land not to mention country or continent from my ancestors coz all is taken. I work but I find myself still struggling. Blacks also tend to forget their own_ I mean we. Marcus Garvey complained about blacks being reluctant to work together_ I am facing the same problem.

    Despite all the suffering that is dished out politically, economically and even religiously to them; Blacks cannot find it easy to work together against the evil system(s) they are facing.

    Solution: Be strategic, organise and educate with a long term plan in mind.


  3. Pingback: The Audacity of Apathy « The Freedom Pages

  4. Black unemployment is at a point to where we need to work together or forever dwell on our loss. We can sit back and idly watch our future wash away in some instances and be taken away in others, or we can do as always is suggested and work together for this common cause?

    Unless our mindset changes our outlook will remain the same. If we keep thinking small we will remain so. If we keep waiting for others to create us a job we will forever be standing in some unemployment line. Garvey was a man whereas ‘Do4Self’ was his philosophy. So was brother Malcolm. We need to jump past mom and pop and go straight to the international business model where we begin to play a role in job creation. I am involved in growing youth entrepreneurship activities that generates income for Black youth, but allows them to learn the principles of ‘making money’, targeting markets and leveraging the money they make. Beats waiting for someone to give them a job!

    Refining how we look at our collective economic composition and position, is needed in order to work together for any collective economic prosperity. Talking about the problem won’t do, hoping that it will change is wishful thinking and doing something that is not well thought out is just a dangerous. A solid vision of what is possible, based on a plan that is feasible can help guide that vision to being achievable.

    We can become creative from where we are at with no need to look to or wait on city, state or the federal government to initiate projects, programs and activities that can start creating opportunity and generating revenues that we need right now.

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