Currently, the rate of unemployment for black males is rising, coming in at 6.7% in comparison to 3.1% for their white counterparts.
It’s easy to miss these numbers, as all of us tend to be caught up in making sure our own jobs are steady and that the bills are paid. But in our country’s current state of affairs, now more than ever is the time for us as a community to pay attention.
I wanted to continue to give Black men space to talk about their experiences with unemployment. It’s a topic we don’t discuss that much, although society historically has expected men to always be able to provide. We expect men to spoil us when we’re dating them, and we expect them to keep the family financially secure when we’re married and have kids. But what happens when they aren’t in a space to do that? I asked a good friend to speak on his experience being unemployed, and what it taught him.
“Since the beginning of time, men are taught that we provide. A man losing his job is like a hunter having his hunting weapon break,” Jeff** 31, told MN.
“You feel lost and less than. I’ve been unemployed a couple of times and I felt like less of a man. I couldn’t provide. I damn sure couldn’t date because I can’t pay for the date. And moreso, I can’t even focus on selling myself to these women because I’m struggling myself. Then, being a black man, it’s not the easiest getting into the next step of your career unless you’re in a very specific field that your skill set is highly coveted,” he explained.
Jeff also expanded on the difficulty he faced processing rejection while everyone else seemed to move on to bigger and better.
“Being unemployed is a devastating shot to the ego, especially when you know you worked your ass off. You feel like “they don’t want you,” word to the Fresh Prince. Looking at your colleagues moving forward with life and you feel like you’re on a treadmill, in motion, but with no real move forward. You may hustle and pick up odd jobs here and there but you’re probably working with people younger than you. You see yourself as a failure because these kids are working to be fly, and you’re working to eat. You call in some favors that you got out there in the universe but don’t want to feel needy. You apply to jobs all day, which is definitely one of the single most unfulfilling things you can do. You’re upset that you’re not getting results, but you can’t go out to get your mind off of life because you can’t afford it. In addition, your temperament really wouldn’t allow you to enjoy yourself because you not only count, but stress over every single cent to your name.”
He expressed that the stress, coupled with the guilt that comes with doing anything enjoyable, can lead a man into isolation or even depression.
“Men, especially black men, are told that we’re useless if we’re unemployed, and trying doesn’t even matter. No one wants a “broke dude” and unless something really controversial happened for you to lose your job, “life happens” is never fully acceptable when somehow it’s understood in private. You feel less than. You feel like you’ve failed and have no one to blame. You feel like even more than less of a man but less of a human being. You’re just walking around merely existing while the world hits double time. I felt guilty for having dreams. Dreams don’t matter when you don’t have a job. Let me reiterate it’s not losing the job that hurts, it’s that gap when you don’t have a clue what’s next and you really ran out of ways to explain it. Besides the one thing that you want to tell to everyone with every fiber in your being but when they ask you, “how are you doing?” I want to tell the truth; I’m struggling and I really need help.”
We overemphasize personal responsibility in our discussions around unemployment. Yes, effort, talent and skills is a huge part of it, but there are also systemic factors that eat at the economic foundation of our communities. It’s important to pay attention to how we are talking about unemployment in this country currently. Economist Julian Malveaux makes a good point, stating “Whenever you hear the words ‘strong economy,’ think of the folks at the bottom,” she wrote in BlackPressUSA. “While the top one percent are certainly benefitting from growth and expansion, those at the bottom haven’t yet benefitted.”
I think we need to give black men grace in this regard. Not every situation is the same, not ever black male who isn’t work is ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated.’ It’s important for us as women, and as a community, to look at this issue on a macro level. In a country that has never valued them, black men have so many societal pressures to battle on a daily basis. Dialogue, instead of shaming, could just be the salve that is needed to heal our brothers during times of economic hardship.
**name changed for anonymity.