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This morning’s New York Times has a story that resonates pretty loudly here in the District. With the shrinking of government jobs, the black middle class is on more tenuous footing than ever:
Though the recession and continuing economic downturn have been devastating to the American middle class as a whole, the two and a half years since the declared end of the recession have been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks in terms of layoffs and unemployment, according to economists and recent government data. 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 reliance on these jobs has provided African-Americans a path upward,” said Robert H. Zieger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida, and the author of a book on race and labor. “But it is also a vulnerability.”
A study by the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California this spring concluded, “Any analysis of the impact to society of additional layoffs in the public sector as a strategy to address the fiscal crisis should take into account the disproportionate impact the reductions in government employment have on the black community.”
Jobless rates among blacks have consistently been about double those of whites. In October, the black unemployment rate was 15.1 percent, compared with 8 percent for whites. Last summer, the black unemployment rate hit 16.7 percent, its highest level since 1984.
Economists say there are probably a variety of reasons for the racial gap, including generally lower educational levels for African-Americans, continuing discrimination and the fact that many live in areas that have been slow to recover economically.
It’s common knowledge that federal government helped build the black middle class in D.C. The low- and mid-level jobs have provided salaries, stability, and benefits not found in the city’s small private sector. What they haven’t provided is a pathway to family wealth.
The story is also a reminder of criticisms of the way Michelle Rhee handled the District’s teacher workforce—-one of the last stable places of employment for black residents—-and the accusations that as she eliminated school staff, some were replaced by white teachers from outside of the city.
Photo by ElvertBarnes via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License