How African-Americans Are Kept Out of Local Labor Markets

July 8, 2011  |  

By Alexis Garrett Stodghill

As black unemployment hovers near 16%, activists are examining the specific forces at work keeping blacks from finding positions in their local communities. Factors like the overall weakness of the economy and the above-average presence of ex-felons in our group are significant contributors to the problem. Yet, organization like the National Urban League believe other causes are being underestimated, particularly entrenched discrimination in key industries such as construction. Breaking into local economies on these levels will be essential for blacks seeking better economic futures. The Grio reports that:

Further, according to black-owned contractors, a “good old boy” network has existed to ensure that white-male-owned contractors, well connected and extensively networked, continue to secure the highly coveted contracts. And when black-owned businesses are denied these opportunities — aggressively shut out of the market or removed from existing contracts — they cannot hire people and help uplift the community. As a result, the black community suffers and its problems of unemployment and poverty persist. That has been the case for years in cities such as Philadelphia.

For example, Holley Enterprises, a black-owned construction company, claims that James J. Anderson Construction unfairly terminated their contract as subcontractor on a subway repair project. According to Holley, Anderson brought on the black-owned firm to meet minority participation requirements for the project, and unfairly terminated Holley two months later.

Minority businesses suggest that the pervasiveness of discrimination demonstrates the continued need for affirmative action to give minority businesses a fair chance and bring them into the economic mainstream.

Without entities to properly enforce laws that prevent race-bias, African-Americans might never be able to escape the double-digit unemployment trap. Construction jobs, for example, are given by firms that often receive large government contracts. It has been widely reported that minority-owned companies received few of the government contracts that were granted as part of President Obama’s stimulus package. Acts of discrimination such as these prevent jobs from funneling down to lower levels of our community.

Concrete examples of the effect of this phenomenon are striking. In example given by The Grio in its report, one black neighborhood in DC must idly witness a bridge being built in their neighborhood by outsiders, even though the area faces an unemployment rate of 30%.

The Congressional Black Caucus has joined the National Urban League in criticizing President Obama’s administration for not doing enough to adequately address such systemic causes of black joblessness. Both groups have presented detailed proposals to ameliorate the situation, including steps like funding stimulus programs targeted towards communities of color.  Their ideas aim to create jobs where people of color live, and empower black-owned businesses to hire people from their backyards.

President Obama is famous for responding to such suggestions by saying “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Yet, it is hard to agree with the assertion that specific programs for blacks are not necessary, if the economy is doing well. The fact that black unemployment is usually twice the national rate regardless of the nation’s economic state points to the fact that other elements are at play.  While African-Americans need to take more responsibility for making themselves employment-ready, the sad fact is that even the college educated are considered less attractive to many employers than white ex-cons.

Facts like these cannot be ignored. The crime of persistently higher black unemployment must be addressed. But instead of looking to President Obama, perhaps blacks should take their leaders to task at the local level. That is where the failure of politicians to address our needs is hitting home.


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