One in Four Black, Latino Workers Shut Out of Withered Job Market

By Michelle Chen Jan 09, 2010

The new labor statistics released today show more of the same: official unemployment was about level. Some economists insist that we’re still on track for a steady recovery; left-leaning analysts like the Economic Policy Institute say the hole is much deeper than it looks, and depending on your color, age and education level, you may not even be close to crawling out of it. EPI explains:

The nation’s 10% unemployment rate does not fully capture the extent of the jobs crisis, since millions of Americans have given up looking for work or cannot find the amount of work they need. This large group of discouraged and “involuntary part-time” workers is more accurately counted in the underemployment rate, which stood at 17.3% in December, and is much higher for black and Hispanic workers….

While white underemployment has more than doubled over the course of the recession to 14.6%, underemployment is now 24.3% for black workers and 25.1% for Hispanic workers: A staggering one in four of these minority workers cannot find the amount of work they want.

To clarify: that’s one in four people in these communities who are willing and/or able to work, but can’t find a job that satisfies their basic needs. Another scary one-in-four statistic: From 2007 to 2008, the number of households at risk of hunger (flatteringly termed "food insecure") soared to more than 17 million. The rate for white families was about 11 percent. The rate for Black families was more than 25 percent. Again, one in four Black families who probably wouldn’t be able to adequately feed themselves without outside or government assistance. EPI analyst Algernon Austin describes this as a long-term, intergenerational crisis for Black communities. Extrapolating from the understated 10 percent unemployment rate, EPI predicts that if the trend persists, Black child poverty will reach 50 percent.

Joblessness today undermines educational opportunity tomorrow. Hunger can impede child development, stymie progress in school, and contribute to behavioral issues. "We want black children to do better in school," Austin writes, "but academic improvements are not likely to occur when more and more black children are growing up in households facing hunger."

The cheerleading in Washington for school reform seems almost blind to the reality that the same system forces students to go to school hungry. Politicians have proposed tighter standards and new funding for schools to bridge the achievement gap, and yet an even more fundamental gap persists in the background, between who eats and who starves in this country. While the economy may be on the road to recovery, the damage it has inflicted on the bodies and minds of children of color is irreparable.