Black unemployment: Racism or personal responsibility?

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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.

“I don’t think it is systemic racism,” Steele said. “Maybe historically, back when there was actual discrimination in a systemic way, that may have contributed to the break down of family and so forth that we now live with today. The sad fact is the that today the problems really are not discrimination, they have to do with the break down of the black family almost entirely.”

“It is an extremely difficult problem,” Steele added. “One of the things I have argued for that I have always felt is important, and it is very controversial… is individual responsibility. My sense is there has to be much more emphasis put on that.”

Jackson, however is adamant that while blacks have been gaining more representation on the political side, the problem truly lies with “patterns of racial discrimination” in the economic realm.

“How blacks are treated in this country is a moral test of American commitment to justice,” he said. “….We are the canary in the mine and we are facing today is awesome patterns of racial discrimination.”

Like Jackson, Dr. Watkins explained that the black plight is a cry for help, but not one which many in the black community are willing to voice as they to not want to hurt the president that they love “like a family member.”

“The real concern for the president is that the black community may simply support him from the sidelines, as they’ve been politely asked to re-embrace the same disenfranchised hopelessness that plagued us before Obama made us believe the words ‘Yes we can,’ wrote Watkins. “When black Obama supporters ask suffering African American families to remain silent for the sake of preserving the presidency, they are asking them to accept the fact that President Obama is too busy with more important issues to address the challenges of racial inequality.”

The playing field is uneven and until the scales are balanced the problem will persist, Jackson added, whether or not there is a black man in office.

“Facing unequal opportunity, access to health care, jobs, public transportation, the unevenness results in uneven results and until one can document that unevenness in the nation, and support all citizens, whether they’re black or Latino of Native American or [of a differnt] sexual orientation we must all be afforded equal protection under the law and blacks are not being afforded that,” he said.

Steele reiterated that until the black community begins to put an emphasis on personal responsibility improving their plight will be near impossible.

“As black Americans we are – I think the fact that we have a black president makes the point – we are at a very different juncture in our history, where ironically racism is no longer our number one problem, probably 18th on the list. The idea of taking our own lives in our hands and competing as other Americans do [is how to solve the problem],” Steele concluded.

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