By Frederick H. Lowe
Fifty years after Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act overturned laws that overtly restricted blacks to a limited number of low-wage occupations, African Americans still suffer from the affects of high unemployment, low wages and limited access to higher-paying jobs that encourage marriage, better health care, neighborhood safety and discourage crime, according to a report, titled #BlackWorkersMatter, issued this month.
Before Title VII, blacks were mostly limited to working as domestics — maids, butlers — and in agriculture as laborers.
Although blacks today can be found in a wide-variety of occupations, their numbers are small and most African Americans are consigned to low-wage jobs, making it difficult for them to marry and support a family.
The report takes its title from the popular #BlackLivesMatter, which was established after an unarmed Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, who was later acquitted of Martin’s murder by an all-women’s jury.
Algernon Austin, a Ph.D. sociologist with the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, which is based in Oakland, California, said the lack of jobs and low-wage jobs contribute to crime, low rates of marriage and health disparities in the African-American community. Austin areas of expertise are workforce development and access to jobs.
“The relative number of jobs available to blacks remains inadequate, even now, more than half a century after the Civil Rights Act,” Austin wrote in a chapter of #BlackWorkersMatter, titled “The Importance of Good Jobs to the Social and Economic Health of Black Communities.” “Since the 1960s, the black unemployment rates — the share of blacks looking for but unable to find it — has ranged from 2 to 2.5 times the rate for whites.”
Austin’s comments were confirmed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ April jobs report released Friday.
The unemployment rate for African Americans on a seasonally adjusted basis was 9.6%, compared to 4.4% for Asians, 6.9% for Hispanics, and 4.7% for whites.
The jobless rate for black men 20 years old and older was 9.2 % in April, BLS reported. The unemployment rate for African-American women 20 years old was 8.8%. The jobless rate for black men and black women 20 years older is higher than that of any other racial or ethnic group.
The unemployment rate for white women was 4.2% and for white men the jobless rate was 4.4%.
During the recession, the unemployment rate topped out at around 8 % in 2010, but even during the best economic times, black unemployment exceeds 8 %, Austin wrote. Even with anti-discrimination laws on the books, employers still prefer to hire white workers, he said.
Low wages is one of the major issues crippling the black community.
“African-American workers’ wages are on average lower than white workers’ wages and the gap is widening,” Austin wrote. “In 1989, the average white man with only a high school education earned $3.76 an hour more than the average black male high school graduate. By 2011, this difference had grown to $4.19 per hour. Black workers are overrepresented among workers earning the minimum wage or less and more than a third of black workers do not earn enough to lift a family of four out of poverty.”
Austin also noted that black workers have also seen significant declines in wages, an important measure of job quality and the black and white wage gap has been growing.
“Nearly all of the problems facing African-American communities are directly or indirectly the result of the lack of jobs and low wages among African Americans,” Austin wrote.
#Blackworkerslivesmatter contains four other articles: “Working While Black: The State of the Black Worker Organizing in the U.S.,” “Gender and the Black Jobs Crisis,” “Low-Wage Work in the Black Community in the Age of Inequality” and “Partnership between the Labor Movement and Black Voters: The Opportunities, Challenges and Next Steps.”