The Maynard Institute

Post-racial? In unemployment, try most racial.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest figures show the national jobless rate climbing to 9.8 percent. Yet, disaggregating this trend by race reveals that whites are doing a bit better at 8.9 percent unemployment, while Latinos (13.2 percent) and blacks (16.1 percent) are doing much worse.
Most shocking, however, is joblessness among black youth. Close to half (46.5 percent) are unemployed, a rate more than double that of whites between 16 and 20 years old.

The latest news reports, however, mostly focused on overall jobless trends with no mention of the disproportionate impact of jobless rates by race, much less the reasons behind it.

“The issues of race and inequality and poverty have been taken off the table. This has become passé,” says James Jennings, a Tufts University urban environmental policy professor. “It’s not right not to say anything.”

An exception was a Boston Globe story about Jennings’ research on the future of minority workers in Boston. For his report, “The State of Black Boston,” Jennings analyzed 2006-2008 Census data and found that the black and Latino children who will populate the city’s emerging workforce will be overwhelmingly poor and undereducated and will face a lifetime of joblessness and all the pathology that goes along with it.

Chances are other urban areas have similar stories to tell and journalists who step outside the local coverage bubble and connect universal dots will tap into a more global perspective that leads to better local stories.

For starters, get a head start on understanding the 2010 U.S. Census —which lands on President Obama’s desk this month — by sussing out trends from the latest American Community Survey, released on Dec. 14. The American Community Survey replaced the Census long form. Released every fall, it’s based on an annual poll of two million people (one in 65 households). The survey includes questions about population demographics, housing and economic status.

Consider, too, examining three-year Census estimates that will be published in January. This data can be found on FactFinder, which is getting a facelift soon. These tools can help ratchet up the depth and authority of news stories and help pinpoint where to look for faces to put on the data.

Look for the first peek at the 2010 Census in February.

Another source of rich data on employment and demographic trends is special Census surveys of urban areas. Stan Moore, U.S. Census Chicago regional director, says cities will hire the agency to collect data between the decennial census.  Moore, who, with more than 50 years at the Census, is a rich source himself, pioneered the practice of hiring of Census workers who belong to the communities being counted. Beating the streets and reaching out to talk to real people is a lesson to be learned from the venerable Mr. Moore. (I’m just sayin’).

“If someone were to do a similar report of other cities in the United States, they would find the same thing,” Jennings says.

For thought leaders who are now imagining what L.A., Chicago, New York, Atlanta, or even Raleigh and Tulsa will look like in the future, how do the chronically unemployed and undereducated public school youths fit into the picture?

Then factor in this disturbing finding from a study published in the Journal of Labor Economics: “Non-black managers — whites, Hispanics, and Asians — hire more whites and fewer blacks than do black managers,” especially in the South. The study tracked 100,000 employees in 700 stores over 30 months.

While managers tended to hire people who lived close by, “an analysis of dismissal and promotion rates suggests that some form of managerial discrimination may help explain why non-black and black managers hire blacks at different rates,” wrote lead researcher Laura Giuliano.

Looking ahead, Jennings says he’s concerned that Boston youth are not being prepared to flow into a job market that will sorely need them. According to the Federal Reserve, the Northeast region will be short 780,000 skilled workers — pharmacists, physical therapists, database administrators and others that require college or special training — by 2018.

And low-income youth across-the-board are getting short shrift in the labor market now, says Prof. Andrew Sum, a labor economics expert at Northeastern University.

“What’s happening with white, black and Hispanic youth has been catastrophic,” says Sum, who will release new research on youth employment soon at the Children’s Defense Fund. “These young kids that are being brought up in low-income families are facing a much bleaker future than before.”

Sum continues: “Young people are being split by family income far more than race or ethnicity. They just won’t be able to compete in this new, far bigger market environment.”

For example, Sum says, the top 10 percent of young black families (under age 30) collect as much income before taxes in a given year than the bottom 70 percent of young black families.

“With all the stimulus talk, basically nothing has been targeted toward young people,” Sum says. “Nobody is saying a thing. It’s pretty much an empty suit everywhere in America.”

This column is published courtesy of The Maynard Institute (