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Nearly Half of NYC Black Men Jobless

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  • Djehuti Sundaka
    Nearly Half of NYC Black Men Jobless http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/28/nyregion/28employ.html? pagewanted=print&position= By Janny Scott The New York Times
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2004
      Nearly Half of NYC Black Men Jobless

      By Janny Scott
      The New York Times

      Saturday 28 February 2004

      It is well known that the unemployment rate in New York City rose
      sharply during the recent
      recession. It is also understood that the increase was worse for men
      than for women, and especially
      bad for black men. But a new study examining trends in joblessness in
      the city since 2000 suggests
      that by 2003, nearly one of every two black men between 16 and 64 was
      not working.

      The study, by the Community Service Society, a nonprofit group that
      serves the poor, is based on
      data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and focuses on the
      employment-population ratio - the fraction of the working-age
      population with a paid job - in
      addition to the more familiar unemployment rate, the percentage of
      the labor force actively looking
      for work.

      Mark Levitan, the report's author, found that just 51.8 percent of
      black men ages 16 to 64 held jobs
      in New York City in 2003. The rate for white men was 75.7 percent;
      for Hispanic men, 65.7; and
      for black women, 57.1. The employment-population ratio for black men
      was the lowest for the
      period Mr. Levitan has studied, which goes back to 1979.

      "We're left with a very big question,'' Mr. Levitan, a senior policy
      analyst with the society, said in an
      interview. "As the economy recovers, will we see a rise in employment
      among black men in tandem
      with the rise in employment of city residents generally? In other
      words, is this fundamentally a cyclical
      problem or is it more deeply structural? I fear that it is more
      deeply structural."

      Researchers who have studied joblessness said Mr. Levitan's findings
      were consistent with trends
      among disadvantaged men, both black and white, in other Northern and
      Midwestern cities where
      manufacturing jobs have disappeared in recent decades. Some said
      factors that might have made the
      problem worse since 2000 could include welfare reform, high rates of
      incarceration producing gaps
      in job histories, and competition with immigrants for low-skill jobs.

      Lawrence M. Mead, a professor of political science at New York
      University who specializes in
      social policy and welfare reform, said that labor force
      participation - job-holding and job-seeking -
      among disadvantaged men had been declining nationwide and that New
      York City had long had "a
      lower work level" than elsewhere. Others said a similar racial gap in
      male employment had been seen
      in Midwestern and Central states.

      "You're really talking about a long-term problem among low-skilled,
      disadvantaged men,'' Professor
      Mead said. "Blacks are disproportionately disadvantaged. You're
      seeing this tendency to drop out.
      It's very serious and nobody has an answer.''

      Mindy Tarlow, executive director of the Center for Employment
      Opportunities, an employment
      program for men and women with criminal records that is based in
      Lower Manhattan, said her
      agency's success rate in placing clients in unsubsidized jobs had
      dropped to 55 percent from 65
      percent between 2000 and 2003. She attributed the change not only to
      the recession but also to
      women coming off welfare and looking for work.

      "I do know there are more people in the low-skill job market
      competing for the same low-skill
      jobs,'' she said. "In some ways, the low-skill job market has become
      more competitive. Welfare
      reform came into law in 1996, but I think the impact was starting to
      be felt around 2000, maybe

      David R. Howell, a labor economist and professor at New School
      University, said service jobs were
      particularly hard for black men to get. He said studies had shown
      that employers "are particularly
      uninterested in hiring black men for jobs that require customer or
      client contact, for whatever
      reason.'' They tend to give preference to women, he said.

      Mr. Levitan used data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly
      survey done by the Bureau of
      Labor Statistics on a nationwide basis. He averaged the 12 monthly
      figures for New York City for
      each year. He said he used the employment-population ratio because
      the unemployment rate, which
      counts only people who are actively looking for a job, did not
      capture those too discouraged to
      keep trying.

      In a recession, the number of discouraged workers goes up, Mr.
      Levitan said. If job losses land
      disproportionately on one group of people, a disproportionate share
      of that group may give up
      looking for work. In that case, changes in the unemployment rate for
      that group will tend to
      understate the relative impact of the recession on that group, he

      Mr. Levitan found that the unemployment rate for black men in New
      York City rose by 5.3
      percentage points, to 12.9 percent, in 2003. The employment-
      population ratio dropped by 12.2
      percentage points, to 51.8, from a cycle peak of 64 in 2000. The
      employment-population ratio for
      Hispanic men dropped by 7.1 percentage points; the ratio for white
      men dropped by 2.1. The
      margin of error was 4 percent.

      The declines among black and Hispanic women were smaller than among
      black and Hispanic men.
      Mr. Levitan said the industries that had the biggest drop in
      employment - manufacturing, finance and
      professional services - were dominated by men. And the one sector
      that grew significantly during the
      recession - education and health services, which now accounts for
      18.7 percent of all jobs - is
      overwhelmingly female.

      "It definitely reflects that black men disproportionately have had to
      carry the burden of the
      unemployment situation in New York City,'' Lizzette Hill Barcelona,
      executive director of Strive
      New York, a work force development agency, said of Mr. Levitan's
      findings. "Black men are usually
      the least skilled. In a tough economy, those are the jobs that you
      can do away with.''

      Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, questioned
      whether the data from the
      Current Population Survey, which is done nationally, could reliably
      be used to track changes in
      joblessness among specific groups in New York City from one year to
      the next. He said it was
      conceivable a year-to-year change might be the result of changes in
      the sample of people surveyed.

      Mr. Levitan said the Bureau of Labor Statistics had used a
      methodology similar to his, using its 12
      monthly surveys to create annual averages for states, metropolitan
      areas and cities. He said the
      sample size in New York City was big enough to be reliable. And he
      said the data from 1979 to
      2003 followed a pattern consistent with the business cycle,
      suggesting that they accurately reflected

      Professor Howell, who had seen the study, said: "The magnitude of the
      employment-rate collapse is
      so large for black males that it looks like a data problem. But I
      don't think it is. Because you see not
      as startling a drop, but still a very large drop, for Hispanic males
      as well. It's well known that black
      men are at the end of the hiring queue. So it's perfectly plausible
      that they took the biggest hit.''
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