Blacks rank highest in unemployment
BY SHANNON MUCHMORE World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 2010
4/11/10 at 4:32 AM
The unemployment rate for black people in Oklahoma is twice as high as the rate for white people, and Hispanics face a similar disparity that exists regardless of education, training or experience, data show.
In 2008, Oklahoma was one of five states where the black unemployment rate was three times as high as the rate for white people. It was also one of five states to have twice as high an unemployment rate for Hispanics as whites, according to a recent report.
"That's just this country," said Opa Chaney, an employment counselor for the Urban League of Tulsa. "When you're forced with going to look for a job, and you're facing an applicant that's not African American, your chances really dwindle in getting that job."
The unemployment gap, which varies widely among states, exists even when controlled for work experience and post-high school education, according to the nonprofit organization United for a Fair Economy's "State of the Dream 2010" report released in January. The organization bills itself as "a nonpartisan organization that helps people of all races, ethnicities and classes work to reduce economic inequality."
The newly released numbers for 2009 show the unemployment rate for black Oklahomans is 11.1 percent, compared with 5 percent for whites and 7.4 percent for Hispanics. In 2008, black unemployment in the state was 8.7 percent, while the rate for whites was 2.9 percent and the rate for Hispanics was 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Chaney said the number of people coming to her for help in finding a job has risen substantially in the past couple of years. All professions have suffered, but she hopes the trouble is beginning to peak, she said.
"All I can say is you just have to brush up on your interview skills and just keep trying," she said.
Lanisa Colbert, a 43-year-old Tulsan who is black, said she's not surprised by the statistics.
She has been looking for employment since 2004, when she was forced to leave her job because of severe medical problems and the death of a family member. She has applied to several call centers in the area but has yet to find a permanent job.
Colbert said she plans to take the test to qualify for a Census job and will continue to work odd jobs, particularly in home care for older people.
Some businesses tell Colbert their insurance policy can't provide her coverage because she is overweight. She doesn't think the color of her skin helps either, she said.
She has family members who believe they have been turned down for jobs because their names "sound black," she said.
"It's sad, but it's true," she said.
State Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said Oklahoma's education system is mostly to blame for the racial inequality in unemployment.
"It starts there," he said. "If you look at communities that are low income or have a low socioeconomic background or have a higher concentration of African Americans or Hispanics, you also see those communities tied to some of the lowest-performing schools.
"If communities don't have access to quality education, then they don't have the opportunity from the cradle throughout life and the pipeline that exists in between. It is very, very true that they don't have the skill set to acquire a good job."
Shumate, who is chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, said programs that reward innovative approaches to public education, such as the federal Race to the Top project, are the first step to ensuring quality education for all children.
He favors targeted job-creation initiatives in struggling communities and addressing concentrated areas of poverty and general racial economic inequality.
"We've had years of the same schools facing the same challenges," he said. "And we have to figure out what we need to do to change that."
Francisco Travina, president of the Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the disparity is sad but reflects a tough economic time for everyone in the country.
The number of unemployed Hispanic people is probably higher than reported, because many are humiliated by the thought of receiving unemployment benefits, Travina said.
"I think it's a pride thing," he said.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for black people is the highest it has been in 27 years at 16.5 percent. From December 2008 to December 2009, the rate rose by 4.3 percentage points, compared with a 3.7-point increase for Hispanics and 2.4 points for whites.
Underemployment for black and Hispanic workers is also more than twice as high as for whites. This is partly because of the recent downturn in construction and manufacturing jobs, according to a report by the Applied Research Center.
The Great Recession has also particularly affected younger black workers. More than 40 percent of black teenagers nationally are unemployed, and nearly
one-quarter of black workers between 20 and 24 are out of work.
Younger workers of all races have seen steadily rising unemployment numbers. The overall rate of unemployed teenagers in March was 26.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Black people also face a higher wage disparity and more instances of long-term unemployment than white people, according to the report.
Shumate said addressing high unemployment among black and Hispanic people is important to combating blight and preventing crime-ridden, dilapidated communities.
"Oftentimes in a low socioeconomic community, they (unemployed people) end up participating in crime and criminal activities," he said.
"Or you have a high number of people who just give up hope. When that happens, the whole community really suffers. The community that is hopeless doesn't really progress or move forward."
rates in March 2010
Total: 9.7 percent
White: 8.8 percent
Hispanic: 12.6 percent
Black: 16.5 percent
Total: 26.1 percent
White: 23.7 percent
Hispanic: 30.1 percent*
Black: 41.1 percent
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
* Not seasonally adjusted
Shannon Muchmore 581-8378