BY BARBARA R. ANWINE
TRICE EDNEY WIRE
As we usher in 2012, it remains disheartening that unemployment rates for African-Americans and Latinos/Hispanics remain in the double digits. Far more must be done to address disparities in access and opportunity that plague minorities nationwide.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ December 2011 unemployment data revealed that the unemployment rate for Whites was 7.5 percent, 15.8 percent for Blacks, and 11 percent for Hispanics, respectively. The unemployment rate for African-Americans 16-19 years of age stands at an alarming 42.1 percent. Black unemployment is higher now than at the official end of the recession in June 2009.
The president’s plan for producing more jobs, small business growth and job training is a crucial step in the right direction. However, I encourage the administration to incorporate comprehensive strategies across agencies that directly combat the underlying problems leading to racial disparities.
African-Americans/Blacks and Hispanics/Latinos have not received a fair shot. Not everyone plays by the same rules. This is why targeted strategies must be employed to ensure that minority students and workers obtain equitable education opportunities, job training and professional development, and access to fairly compete for current and future jobs. Here are some important issues:
• Employers’ misuse of credit checks and/or criminal histories – Although some states have addressed employers’ misuse of criminal background checks, arrest records and/or credit checks as a condition for employment and/or promotion, many have failed to do so. Recent reports estimate that approximately 60 percent of employers use credit checks and approximately 92 percent use criminal histories to screen job applicants – often illegally.
• Pay gap between men and women, particularly women of color – Disparities in pay between men and women in the workforce also continue to exist. Gender equity issues still affect the ability of many working families to move ahead. On average, full-time working women receive only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. Black women are paid only 61 cents and Latinas only 52 cents for every dollar paid to White, non-Hispanic men. Passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act to eliminate these gross disparities is critical.
• Opportunity gap in education for students of color – A quality education for ALL children, including those of immigrant families, is a civil right that is vital to the stability of this country. Targeted intervention to support high-poverty, high- minority schools that are under-resourced should not be left to the states. Lack of affordable housing and ongoing unfair housing practices perpetuate segregated communities and concentrations of poverty in our nation. Since segregated schools with a high concentration of minority students have a greater likelihood of being under-resourced, diversity in schools must not be an afterthought, but a requirement if American students are to compete in this global economy.
• Remedy other discriminatory practices present in our nation’s classrooms such as harsher punishments – A recent Yale University Child Study Center study shows that Black children, especially boys, regardless of their family income, receive less attention, harsher punishment and lower marks in school than their White counterparts from kindergarten through college.
• Other factors: At least 600,000 public sector jobs being cut since the start of the recession. About one in five Black workers have public sector jobs, and African-American workers are one-third more likely than White ones to be employed in the public sector. The Black workforce is younger than the White workforce. Lower numbers of Blacks get a college degree and many live in areas of the country that were harder hit by the recession.
It is a disgrace that Black unemployment has been roughly double that of Whites since the government began tracking the figures in 1972. This continues to threaten the ongoing decimation of Black wealth (already 1/50th that of Whites). Immediate and long-term targeted solutions, along with legislative fixes, are long overdue to remedy this massive quagmire.
Barbara Arnwine is executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.