The Great Recession is sometimes known as the “Mancession” because men were hit so hard by unemployment, but a better term for it might be the “Black Mancession.”
While recent data show white men are finding more job opportunities than they did last year, black male job seekers are still in an economic black hole. In April, the jobless rate among adult white males was 7.9 percent, up from 4.1 percent three years ago but down from 9.3 percent in the same month last year.
Compare that to the jobless rate of 17.0 percent among black men, down from 17.7 percent a year ago but more than double the rate of 8.4 percent three years ago.
“Since the 1920s the two-to-one ratio has defined black-to-white unemployment in the U.S.,” said Charles Gallagher, chair of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia. But, he added: “This recession has been particularly hard on black men.”
A continued hemorrhaging of jobs in urban areas, a decline of jobs that pay well but don’t require lots of education, and a decline in government jobs in cities, , have all combined to hurt black males, he said.
Losses in good-paying manufacturing jobs also have hit black men hard, said Harry Holzer, author of “Where Are All the Good Jobs Going?” and public policy professor at Georgetown University.
Even though we’re in a recovery, he said, “it’s been very, very slow, and black men are showing the least progress with little sign so far that unemployment rates are improving.”
You don’t have to tell that to William Best, 52, of Philadelphia. He’s been looking for a job for about a year now as a behavioral health technician, a field where he made $14 an hour until he left his job in 2009 following an injury.
Best doesn’t have a college degree and believes that fact, and his age, may be hindering his job prospects. As for whether race is holding him back, he said, “I don’t like to play the racial card. I go out there and put my best foot forward to try and get a job no matter what it is."
Georgetown’s Holzer said low-income black men are among the biggest casualties of the recession. “Less-educated black men have been taking a beating for decades,” he said. "They are more likely to drop out of labor market, and more likely to get into the justice system.”
Because many lag in the classroom when they’re young, he said, “they’re having the most difficulty transitioning to a new service-based economy where education matters more.”
Many face long-term financial problems and criminal records, he noted, and these two factors can spell doom for job seekers.
Indeed, employers have stepped up their credit background checks during this economic downturn for all types of jobs, not just those where workers would be handling money, and the practice has hurt minority candidates, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been cracking down on the use of such reviews.
“This is the group that seems to have the most difficulty during good times, and during the bad times the difficulty is even more compounded,” said Holzer, referring to lower-income black men.
It’s not just poorer men who are suffering, said Chad Dion Lassiter, president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice. Middle- and upper-income educated black men, he said, are also feeling the job-market squeeze.
“There’s unemployment and underemployment among men with degrees and credentials,” he said. “They are not getting jobs, or (they are) getting jobs at a lower salary than their white male counterparts.”
Michael, 34, of Washington, D.C., is a college graduate but still can’t find a good job after being laid off from a $70,000-a-year job in 2008. He did not want his full name used for fear it would hurt his chances of landing a job.
“My unemployment benefits expired over one year ago and I am staying with my girlfriend in her cramped apartment, dependent on her support,” he said. “Black men are the first to suffer from unemployment and the last to recover. No programs exist to help us, and I cannot think of a single policy in place beneficial to the black man -- I'm angry, depressed, frustrated and helpless.”
This attitude is not unusual for this group and it all comes down to how it affects “a black man’s pride,” said Anthony Quinones, a midlife transition expert known as “The Repackaging Expert” online, who has helped many unemployed black men over 30 find jobs.
“Sometimes we will assume that there are certain prejudices,” he said. “Whether they're perceived or not, that’s just another obstacle.”
The biggest obstacle to finding work, he said, “is resentment. It’s is a big thing for black men and they have a tough time recovering.”
But recover you must, he stressed. “Anger stops you from moving forward.”
Once you’re able to move forward, the first thing to concentrate on is networking, especially on the Internet, suggested Rathin Sinha, president of America's Job Exchange, a job site that focuses on middle-income jobs. Minorities, he said, tend not to be as involved in social networking sites such as LinkedIn, and he suggested that is the best place to start. And don’t just send out resumes, he said, target your search and set up job alerts for certain jobs in certain locations you might be interested in.
It’s also important to reach out for help if you need it, he added, including looking to state agencies for employment-assistant programs or visiting a local Department of Labor one-stop employment center.
You should also take a personal inventory of your skills and what you can bring to the table when you’re looking for work, said Quinones.
“Most people don’t look at themselves,” he maintained, adding “the game won’t change for you until you do that and see beyond the obstacles.”