Black unemployment: Racism or personal responsibility?

African Americans have the highest unemployment rate of any ethnic group in America, and the disparity is raising eyebrows.

According the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the black unemployment rate hovers at 16.1 percent – compared with 8 percent among whites, 11.8 percent among Hispanics, and 6.4 percent among Asians. The most recent figures pin the total unemployment rate at 9 percent.

There is not a consensus, however, on the reasons behind the disparity, which Dr. Boyce Watkins has labeled “The Great Black Disconnect,” wherein blacks disassociate their plight from the president’s inaction – yet might fail to put energy into his reelection.

“Like a festering and infected wound that remains untreated, President Obama’s support within the black community is threatened by the fact that the people who love him most are suffering unlike anything our nation has seen over the last 50 years,” Watkins wrote in the Huffington Post.

To Reverend Jesse Jackson the high numbers of unemployed blacks is a “cry for help,” due to systematic racism and a failure to enforce the law. Help has not, however, been as forthcoming as the civil rights leader would have liked to see. For, while the president has had numerous conferences on the economic struggles of Americans, Jackson thinks it is high time for a conference on the plight of blacks in the workforce.

“This involves the White House, the Congress, and the Department of Justice, and corporate America. All these institutions would see the value of some kind of White House conference on racial justice” Jackson told The Daily Caller.

Ward Connerly, chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute, on the other hand, told TheDC that while there might be some elements of racism in the culture, they are isolated and do not explain the disparity, it is largely an education and immigration issue.

“The more likely factors are these: for skilled positions, blacks are less educated and less skilled than whites and Asians; and for unskilled positions, I believe illegal immigrants are having a huge effect on black unemployment,” Connerly wrote in an email. “We can find this in construction-related jobs and in the food service industries, in particular. And, of course, in agriculture, Hispanics are dominant.”

According to Connerly there is a “tipping point” for certain jobs, particularly unskilled labor where not only is there a language barrier, but also a stereotype that Hispanics are better workers .

“For example,” he explained, “take the roofing industry. Once a crew gets a critical mass of Hispanics, it becomes extremely difficult to bring non-Hispanics on the job. Language, for example, is a major factor. I have heard crew superintendents say that disputes will break out over such silly factors as which radio station to play – Spanish speaking or rock and roll. So, the problems are complicated, but I don’t believe that outright racism is a major factor.”

Hoover Institution research fellow, Shelby Steele told TheDC that the problem is most associated with the breakdown of the black family, lack of education, and failure of personal responsibility.