Six years after America sank into the deepest economic downturn since the 1930s, the jobless rate has fallen to 5.9 percent, the lowest since July 2008. But one demographic group — African-American men — seems to be stuck in a permanent recession.
Eleven percent of black men over 20 are unemployed today. That’s down from 19 percent in 2010, but it’s still the highest of any ethnic or racial group. By comparison, 9.6 percent of black women are unemployed, while white men have an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. That racial disparity, alas, is nothing new. Since the government began tracking unemployment in 1940, the jobless rate for black men has consistently been at least twice that of white males.
Social scientists, economists and other experts cite a variety of reasons for the high unemployment rate among black males: lack of training, loss of public-sector jobs, high incarceration rates (at least five times that of white men), unequal access to social networks and outright discrimination. When coupled with the fact that the recession hit all men particularly hard (men lost 2.6 jobs to every 1 by a woman, in large part because of a decline in manufacturing and construction), a clearer picture of the tenuous relationship black men have with today’s labor market starts to emerge.