Unemployment In The Black Community

Tom Gjelten in for Tom Ashbook

Black unemployment has hit Depression-era levels. We’ll look at the causes and possible solutions.

New numbers show that Black unemployment is at 16.2 percent, while Black male joblessness is at 17.5 percent. (AP)

New numbers show that Black unemployment is at 16.2 percent, while Black male joblessness is at 17.5 percent. (AP)

The jobless rate in America is more than nine percent, but in African-American communities it’s back at Great Depression levels: Sixteen percent, and even worse for black males.

The sectors hardest hit in the recent recession were important to African American workers in particular: construction, manufacturing, and government. It’s hardly a new problem, but with the economy sputtering, the outlook has rarely been so bleak.

In some cities, black unemployment is expected to stay in double digits for another decade.

This hour On Point: without a job and short on hope.

Tom Gjelten


Charles Blow, visual op-ed columnist for the New York Times.

Janell Ross, business reporter for the Huffington Post. Read the latest in her series “Backsliding: Inside the African American Unemployment Crisis.”

Patrick Graham, president and CEO of the Urban League of the Central Carolinas.


During the show, we heard from one particularly poignant caller, Marsha from Florence, South Carolina. Here’s a brief transcript of her call, which comes around 17 minutes into the show.

TOM GJELTEN: Marsha, welcome to On Point. You’re on the air.

MARSHA: Thank you, Tom. What I would like to say is that, in my whole neighborhood, all the gentlemen in my neighborhood work. Wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends—everybody works. When the loss of jobs came in from manufacturing and construction, all the men in my neighborhood have no job. And they used to all get together and, like if there was a site doing some construction, they’d all get together and go around there to try to fill out an application. And they kept being told the same thing, “Ya’ll cost too much. We won’t hire you.”

But there was a great deal of Hispanics that was on the job site. It has changed the dynamic in my neighborhood very, very…weirdly because they started looking everywhere for jobs and they couldn’t find one. And they’re kinda lost basically ‘cause they don’t really know what to do. These are men that are used to working like 12, 13 hours a day, building buildings, you know, and stuff like that, and manufacturing, and they don’t have any jobs. And my personal, personal, personal experience is my boyfriend—he’s been looking for work for 2 years, and he couldn’t find it.

I usually get my grandchildren on the weekend, but he told me, he said, “I tell you what: I have nothing to do. Why don’t you get the grand kids for the summer?” I said, “Well, I have to work!” He says, “That’s all right. I’ll take care of ‘em.” This man now cooks. He cleans. And he takes care of my 6 year old granddaughter and my 3 year old granddaughter. And he’s like, “I can’t find a job.” He says, “So the least I can do is make the life that we have as comfortable as possible.” So some people have marriages that are falling apart, the dynamic in the families have changed. I like this man a lot better than I liked the one that worked all the time and brought me home all the money! So, you know, we don’t have the money, but man, I had no idea that this dude really had nanny in him!

GJELTEN: Well, good for him.

MARSHA: It just depends, you know, on how you deal with the situation. But it is sad ‘cause the men they don’t have any jobs. You see, there are some of ‘em that just do not have nanny in ‘em at all.

GJELTEN: The stress of unemployment can break some marriages, and it can actually strengthen some relationships, I think is a point that you’re making. I want to go back, Marsha, to something else you said that is an important issue. And you said that the workers in your neighborhood who have worked traditionally were being told they were too expensive. I presume—

MARSHA: They come back in a tizzy because the supervisors won’t hire ‘em. They say they cost too much.

GJELTEN: And you say that a lot of the jobs are going to Hispanics. Are you saying that the Hispanic workers are willing to work for less? What’s the dynamic there you’re talking about?

MARSHA: That I truly believe because we have about 4 or 5 different, large projects going on in Florence, South Carolina. And one of them is modernizing, expanding on our McLeod hospital. They have this huge project goin’ on. And they went, they applied, and they were told as usual, you know, “You cost too much.” So I had to go to McLeod, so I would go be nosy. So I walked around the building site and looked at the people who were working, and they was all Hispanic! And all of ‘em speaking Spanish to each other.

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