By Ruth Conniff
Too many Americans are hurting.
Last month, the national unemployment rate hit a high of 8.9 percent, with close to 13.7 million people unemployed.
For blacks and Latinos, the situation is even more dire. Black unemployment reached 15 percent, while the rate for Hispanics was 11.3 percent.
Given the high levels of poverty that already afflict black and Latino communities, these unemployment rates ensure that the impact of the recession on those communities will be felt for years to come.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is supposed to create or save 3.7 million jobs by 2010. However, due to the underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos in targeted occupations, the stimulus is likely to leave the average unemployment rate for these two groups at about 10.7 percent. 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.
The recession is especially brutal for blacks and Latinos because, compared to whites, they have virtually no net worth to fall back on. About 68 percent of black households and 56 percent of Latino households have no net financial assets.
So, what should be done?
First, the Obama administration should target significant new resources to decrease the unemployment rate among blacks and Latinos and in the hard-hit cities.
Second, the Obama administration should ensure that the jobs created by any stimulus pay a living wage, thus creating a clear pathway out of poverty.
Third, the Obama administration should increase training and education programs for young adults so they can acquire the skills needed to succeed in today’s work force.
And fourth, the Obama administration should create and enforce policies that counter racial and gender discrimination. For instance, black men make up only 5 percent of the work force in construction. There is no good reason for that.
To date, the Obama administration has missed the boat in terms of ensuring that the jobs created through the Recovery Act will reach the most vulnerable. It has also failed to correct for historic patterns of discrimination in the labor market that have blocked access to higher-paying jobs and opportunities for blacks and Latinos.
Paying lip service to fairness and equality is not enough. We need action.