education-deemed-key-to-jobs_web.pngSpecial to South Florida Times

Black America has been battered by the recession. Unemployment rates are at an all-time high and there is no one explanation for the economic pain.

The black national unemployment rate is up to nearly 16 percent while homeownership rates have declined by three to four percent, Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League (NUL), said during a March 25 conference call with the black media on the topic “A Conversation with the National Urban League on  The State of Black America.”

“This recession has caused an exacerbation of the already wide wealth gap in this country,” Morial said. “The truth is that many of these indicators were starting to decline prior to the recession and [this] is part of a decade-long trend, except with homeownership which peaked in 2004-2005.”

A South Florida Times survey among Urban League leaders in South Florida found varying jobs situations. But they all agreed that the official numbers do not reflect the grim realities in their communities. Black South Florida needs a more educated workforce to take available jobs and get ready for those ahead, they say.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall unemployment rate in Palm Beach County is 12 percent. But no matter what the rate of unemployment, the numbers in the black community are much higher, especially for the 18-32 age group, “which I would say is double,” said Patrick J. Franklin, president and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County.

If unemployment statistics among the total minority population in Palm Beach County are calculated, Franklin said, “it’s probably well into the low 20s or higher.  And, as you move into the Belle Glades area, it goes into the forties.”

Broward County’s overall unemployment rate is 10.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But a labor force status report provided by the Urban League of Broward County (ULBC) shows the black unemployment rate in the county at 15.8 percent. Germaine Smith-Baugh is president and CEO of the group.

“As we see the economy shifting back towards the positive and jobs being added slowly, there must be a collective shift towards ‘What’s next?’” Smith-Baugh said.

“The reality for African Americans and other minority groups is that we are still affected disproportionately and, if we don’t start shifting our mindset now, we won’t be ready for the new wave of green jobs that are coming down the pike. This trend will continue unless we build those programs that train and certify people for the jobs of the future. However, we are crystal clear that jobs and education go hand in hand. It will be impossible to solve one without focusing on the other as well.”

And Black Miami is different from other cities “because we were already being displaced,” said T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami. “Unemployment in Liberty City was already double-digit before the recession. If you took all the jobs that are available and gave them to people in Liberty City, at the end of the day it would still have double-digit unemployment.”

The question, Fair said, “is whether or not we have the skill sets required to perform the jobs that are vacant.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall unemployment rate in Miami-Dade County is 12 percent. According to
Fair, unemployment among black men who are eligible [to work] runs over 50 percent.

The jobs that black workers lost are not coming back, “so we need to focus on what’s going to be the new job requirements and what we are doing as a community to ensure that we are prepared to get them,” Fair said.

To spend a lot of time talking about jobs and no time talking about the education it takes to prepare for them “makes no sense,” Fair said.

The market, at one time, dictated a boom in construction, Fair said, adding, “We didn’t take advantage of that because there were so many others who  were ‘illegal.’ So if you went downtown to see who was working, you did not see blacks.”

Miami is a tourist town but if you look at the hotels on South Beach or downtown, you don’t see blacks employed in those positions, he said. “The good jobs now are in technology. But if you had access to those jobs, do you qualify? The answer, for many, is no. Black children are not progressing and that makes no sense to me. The answer is education and half of our kids aren’t even going to graduate.”

Jeaneen West, ULBC’s employer relations manager, said what she sees “is that you have many that are lacking the training necessary for the jobs that are available. Due to a lack of education or training, there is no match.”

There are customer service jobs but employers have choices and they may want to see more, or recent, experience, West said. “You may be qualified but passed over. Hospitality, retail, call centers — they all want the polished representatives.”

Another handicap, West said, is that the interview process has changed and is even more competitive. “You have to be on top of your game to make that interview count and you have to be ready to prepare yourself to get these jobs,” West said.

“Our job programs are designed to not only help individuals find a job that pays a living wage now but [also] to prepare the disenfranchised with certified training to make them better candidates for the jobs of tomorrow. However, if we as a community don’t pay attention to the education apathy currently inflicting our minority youth, this unemployment problem will continue to persist.”

The recovery has been slow, Franklin of Palm Beach County said, “and what I am finding is that jobs our youth may have been given are now being taken by their parents, who desperately need employment. That will drive the summer unemployment [rate] off the charts.”

No one is producing jobs and the picture is bleak, Franklin said. And many individuals 50 or older are struggling to find jobs because of their age.

Throughout 2011 and 2012, the NUL will go into communities around the country and help people fight back against the recessionary times, Morial said. “That means we will showcase many individuals who, through the UL job training and job placement programs, after being laid off, have found new employment and many times, new careers,” Morial said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at