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Blacks and Latinos Barely Afloat During Recession: With High Rates of Unemployment, Obama's Recovery Plan Not Enough

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Recent news stories have hinted that the recession might be coming to an end and that the economy may be on the rebound. Economists and pundits alike have begun to quietly sing the praises of the effects of the stimulus plan on rescuing states and cities from sure economic ruin.

However, for many individuals and families on Main Street still struggling to make ends meet, the talk doesn't match their day-to-day realities and amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking. For Blacks and Latinos, the situation is even more dire. High levels of poverty coupled with high rates of unemployment ensure that the impact of recession on those communities will be felt for years to come.

In April 2009, the national unemployment rate hit a high of 8.9 percent, with close to 13.2 million people unemployed. While this is certainly cause for alarm, the unemployment rate for Blacks and Latinos has hovered around 7.9 percent for the last decade. And since the start of the recession fifteen months ago, the unemployment rate in those communities has skyrocketed to 12.9 percent, a number well above the national average.

Black men have the highest unemployment rate at 17.3 percent followed closely by Latino men at 12.9 percent. The unemployment rate for African-American families is more than double the rate of White families (8.0 percent compared to 3.3 percent). And among single women heads of households, African-American women have an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, followed by Latino women at 8.7 percent.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is supposed to create or save 3.7 million jobs by 2010. However, due to the under-representation of Blacks and Latinos in targeted occupations, only 917,675 jobs will go to those communities. And because the unemployment rate is so high among Blacks and Latinos, the jobs created will do little to improve their economic situation.

In order to cut the unemployment rate in those communities to the projected national rate of 6.5 percent, an additional 1.7 million jobs would have to be created and go directly to Blacks and Latinos by 2010.

And with all of the talk of green collar jobs and how they will potentially create millions of new jobs across sectors, African Americans and Latinos comprise less than 25 percent of those employed in green occupations. As a result, it is unlikely that those jobs will do much to change their situation. So, what should be done?

It seems like the Administration has missed the boat in terms of ensuring that jobs created through the Recovery Act will reach the most vulnerable. The Act also fails to correct for historic patterns of discrimination in the labor market that have blocked access to higher paying jobs and opportunities for advancement for Blacks and Latinos in the labor force.

Public policies created at the federal level must coincide with the economic and social realities of the Blacks and Latinos. While there seems to be a tone of fairness and equality coming from the White House, it's a bit hard to swallow given that all communities are not on a level playing field.

As it stands, the impact of job creation efforts for Blacks and Latinos through the Recovery Act will be minuscule. To increase impact and benefit, the Administration, states and localities will need to devote significant additional resources to job creation in those communities.

C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., is a political scientist and the executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at the National Council for Research on Women.