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Unemployment rises among African-Americans

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June’s figures show unemployment rose from 13.6% to 14.4% – higher than the rate for Latinos and double that for white people.

One of the most jarring figures in the labour statistics is a rise in unemployment among African Americans, from 13.6% to 14.4%, double the rate for the white population.

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The proportion of white Americans out of work was static at 7.4%, and while the jobless rate for Latinos remained high at 11%, it too was unchanged from May.

Algernon Austin, the director of the race, ethnicity and economy programme at the Economic Policy Institute, said the figure for black Americans had been hovering at or above 14% for the past three years, even with a ‘recovery’ supposedly under way. “It is an extremely high rate to be stuck at,” Austin said. “That is the really important news.”

The disparity between white and black Americans has been consistent for as long as statistics have been collated, at least back to the 1960s. Conclusions reached by exhaustive research blames poor neighbourhoods in which black people have limited opportunities; poorer schools leading to early drop-outs; and high ratio of black people convicted of felonies, which makes employment harder. About one in three African American males are estimated to have spent time in jail: two out of three for those without a high school diploma.

Despite rising educational standards since the 1960s and better educational attainment than Latinos overall, African Americans are still lagging behind in the job market.

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One factor important factor behind the African American unemployment rate, according to Austin, is race. “There is still strong evidence of bias in the labour market,” Austin said, noting research in which black and white job candidates had been sent after the same jobs and the white candidate been more likely to be called for an interview or offered a job.

Bias can even determine the response to resumés, he said, with an Emily or a Greg more likely to get a response than a Jamal or Lakesha.

Austin attributed the rise in black unemployment in June to more African Americans looking for jobs rather than job losses. African American unemployment was basically in a holding pattern, he said.

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Austin published a report earlier this month comparing black unemployment levels in 19 metropolitan areas and found Las Vegas as having the highest rate, 22.6%, the Los Angeles metro area 21.1%, Chicago 19.1% and Detroit 18.1%.

But the problem may be much worse than even the latest disappointing jobless figures suggest. Harry Holzer, former chief economist at the department of labour and now professor of public policy at Georgetown university, said that as well as African-Americans registered as unemployed, there is a huge swath of the population who have dropped out of the labour force entirely.

“Less educated black men have dropped out of that figure in large numbers,” he said. “We have a term called ‘disconnected’.”

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He said that with one in three black men spending some time in prison, many do not even show up in population statistics let alone unemployment figures.

Asked why Latinos had been more successful in the labour market, Holzer said: “A lot of Latinos are immigrants or the children of immigrants and they tend to be prepared to do lower-paid jobs. Owners prefer to employ them because they see them as having a better work ethic.”

© Guardian News and Media 2012

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[African-American businessman standing on a cable over a city, via Shutterstock.com.]

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