As Americans take a day of rest to mark the nation's commitment to a hard day's work, Blacks and other racial minorities wonder if they will ever get back on the job.
Recent figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics place Black unemployment at 16.7 percent, a figure nearly double the national average of 9 percent. And since the beginning and end of the great recession, joblessness among African-Americans has risen by more than 7 percent. Even if a recovery were in full swing, more than 2 million jobs would have to be created and go directly to African-Americans to ease the swell of unemployment.
The chronically high unemployment rate is also chipping away at the Black middle class. 48 percent of unemployed African-Americans have been jobless for six months or more. An already vulnerable group, long spells of unemployment coupled with few assets and savings to ride out an economic storm can destabilize communities and families.
Whose fault is it? There is plenty of blame to go around. Both the Administration and Congress have been reluctant to create targeted programs or policies to address the disproportionate impact of the recession on racial and ethnic minority communities. They have relied on broad public policies, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to trickle down to communities hit hardest by job loss and unemployment.
For the most part, job creation efforts of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have missed Blacks. A well-intentioned and forward thinking policy, it failed to account for segments of the labor force who had been shut out of the market prior to the start of the recession and underestimated what it would take to keep individuals employed in a competitive labor market.
What should President Obama do? In his speech on the economy this week, he should ditch his rising tide lifts all boats rhetoric because it simply isn't true. He should also check his wait-and-see attitude at the door. It is this thinking that has caused unemployment in the Black community to skyrocket to a high not seen in close to 30 years.
Obama must address the crisis of Black unemployment head-on and advocate for policies and investments that will not only curb unemployment, but also create long-term economic stability for workers and communities.