Black workers may be hit hardest as the lingering recession and the political drive to shrink federal and state spending are resulting in a dwindling number of government jobs, according to recently released Labor Department estimates.
Data released in a June 6 Labor Department analysis convey a startling picture for Black participation in the public workforce. According to Labor, “ Blacks are more vulnerable to continuing local government job losses because they make up a disproportionate share of public sector workers.” Roughly 21 percent of the nation’s black adults have government jobs, while the share for whites is just 17 percent and 15 percent for Latinos, according to the article.
But recession bludgeoned governments have eliminated some 375,000 positions since early 2008, based on Labor Department estimates. And that has played a key role in the Black jobless picture, according to the Huffington Post, which links high unemployment figures among Blacks to the growing layoffs of Blacks by both state and local governments.
The unemployment rate for African Americans looms eight percentage points higher than their White counterparts—16.2 percent to eight percent.
“Many of the black people you don’t hear about on the news, the black people who own homes, who can afford to send their children to college and have modest savings, many of them worked for some branch of government before the recession began,” Steven Pitts, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, told the Huffington Post. “There is good reason to be very concerned about what will happen when this work disappears.”
Government jobs have long played an historical role in the race’s fight for workplace equality, the Huffington Post writer Janell Ross noted.Blacks were first allowed to work for the postal service in the 1860s, the article reports. About 20 years later, postal workers were guaranteed equal pay regardless of race and gender and were allowed to participate in early stages of the civil rights movement without losing their positions.
By the mid 20th century, 14 percent of the Black middle class worked in the U.S. Post Office, and soon after, other public agency departments including housing, public works and sanitation also became major employers for Blacks, according to the Huffington Post.
But as the 21st century unfolds, the question is: if Blacks won’t have government jobs to rely on in this century, what are the most opportune career paths for them to take?
“I don't think it is terribly clear where jobs are going to come from,” Ross told the AFRO in an email. She pointed to recent job growth in manufacturing, health care and retail, and noted entrepreneurship is an untapped possibility for many African Americans. Between 2002 and 2007, she added, minorities and women established businesses at two times the rate of other races, but that was prior to the recession.
So the entrepenurial route may hold the most promise for African Americans, according to Ross. “I think [one of] my sources may have put it best. People without jobs may have to give it a try, then hope and pray that they can make their own business work,” she wrote. “Of course, they will be starting a business during one of the most challenging times in recent economic history.”