Black Unemployment: A "Canary in a Coal Mine"

"The latest employment figures sadly unsurprising: with about 35 percent of black men aged 16 to 24 unemployed, the epidemic of joblessness in Black America encapsulates a nationwide crisis. Although high unemployment and deep racial disparities are nothing new, the depth and length of the recession has prompted progressive economists and community groups to warnof an impending "social catastrophe."

The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, has outlined the racial and ethnic dimensions of the crisis, noting that the mainstream statistics reflect only part of the problem:

[...] Altogether, 17.5% of the labor force is underemployed—more than 27 million Americans, including one in four minority workers. [...] we can expect a third of the work force, and 40% of workers of color, to be unemployed or underemployed at some point over the next year.

NAACP President Ben Jealous said in a recent joint statement by civil rights groups, 'Black people in the U.S. are the canaries in the coal mine... What we get tends to hit everybody later.'

A deep recession would see median U.S. family income decline by 4% and Black income decrease by 6%. Thirty-three percent of Blacks and 41% of Latinos would be in danger of falling out of the middle class into poverty compared to 25% nationally.

Of course, there are reasons to focus on the black unemployment crisis other than what it might portend for white unemployment.The figures spell out how systemic inequality is woven into the fiber of the economy. United for a Fair Economy's research on the racial wealth divide depicts a chronically skewed distribution of opportunity: poverty rates among blacks and Latinos is more than double that for whites, and even among the so-called middle class, economic stability is eroding faster for people of color."

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