Black America: Sinking to a New 'Bottom'?

Corporate economists have lately grown fond
of saying the economy is "turning the corner," but for African
Americans, it's shaping up as a long and very scary ride downhill.
Official labor statistics show Black unemployment rose to 16.5 percent
in March, up from 15.8 percent the month before, while white joblessness
remained steady at 8.8 percent. The figures are in line with the
Washington-based Economic Policy Institute's prediction that Black
unemployment will hit 17.2 percent by the third quarter of this year --
the highest level in a quarter century. Not only is the Great
Recession nowhere near over for Black America, there are indications
that the contorted economy is finding a new "bottom" for African
Americans to inhabit.

When the previous bottom fell out, Blacks
fell farther and faster than whites, Asians and Latinos, and from an
even more precarious economic position. As Dedrick Muhammad, of United
for a Fair Economy reported in February 2009, "African Americans never emerged from the 2001 recession."
Black households lost additional ground to whites and Latinos between
2000 and 2005 and were plummeting in real and relative terms even before
the economy "officially" went off the cliff in December, 2007. When the
crash came, the "Black" economy entered unknown territory, where
previous patterns of relative Black-white employment prospects -- as bad
as they were -- may no longer apply.

The sheer speed with which Black joblessness
soared into the deep double digits since the official beginning of the
recession indicates how tenuous is the Black connection to an economy
stripped of all pretense of fairness and reciprocity. If national Black
unemployment reaches 17.2 percent in the late summer, as the Economic
Policy Institute predicts, that will represent an exact doubling of
Black joblessness since December, 2007.

Experts offer a variety of reasons that
Blacks are losing ever more ground in the labor market, from lack of
access to transportation to the oft-cited gaps in preparedness for the
"new economy." But none adequately explains the speed and scope of the
implosion of Black job prospects. My own sense is that both old and
newer factors have combined to create a perfect storm of racial
disadvantage -- and the possibility of a continuing African American
employment spiral that will reset the meters on the Black misery index.

In addition to the myriad disadvantages Black
labor has endured for generations, the constant erosion of workers'
overall bargaining power with employers has reached such a nadir that,
especially in the low wage sector, virtually nothing prevents the boss
from acting out his prejudices and greed with impunity. Endemic racism
in the United States ensures that every ratcheting up of employer power
and prerogatives will redound to the special disadvantage of Black
workers. For example, studies show rampant employer theft of workers' earned wages --
nearly 7 out of 10 low-wage workers report that their bosses steal from
them. Not surprisingly, Blacks are robbed by bosses at three times the
rate of whites.

Simply put, the more desperate workers'
circumstances become, the more critical becomes the factor of employer
racism. With 5.5 job seekers for every actual job opening, according to
the latest data, employers can discriminate in
favor of whites to their hearts' content, while continuing to lower
wages and working conditions. It's easy to casually fire Black people
and even easier not to hire them.

We will soon find out if a statistical "point
of no return" in unemployment levels exists, from which communities
cannot recover absent extraordinary assistance by a caring government.
There is ample reason to believe that many Black communities had already
reached such a "deeper level of Hell" before the Great Recession, with
Black male participation in the job market hovering around 50 percent.
At least a score of major Black population centers now register official
unemployment levels nearing 25 percent, comparable to the depths of the
Great Depression - and it took World War Two to pull the economy out of
that pit. Where is the political will to rescue Black America? Certainly not in the Obama
White House.
With every successive wave of unemployment,
the ranks of the Black "permanently" jobless thicken and congeal, to
finally become part of the background noise of the ghetto. The process
of expelling more and more Blacks from the job market entirely, is
quickening. Stats show Blacks are dramatically more likely than whites
to still be unemployed six months after losing a job.

Another hammer blow is coming. With states
and localities in fiscal crisis virtually everywhere, African Americans
face a double-whammy as disproportionate holders of public jobs and
consumers of public services. Unless the federal government comes to the
rescue of the states and cities, Blacks will lose hundreds of thousands
of previously steady public jobs with benefits, while the poor and
carless will face a hostile world all on their own.

A Local Jobs for America bill recently introduced in
Congress would bail out state and local governments with $100 billion
over two years, but there is little chance that President Obama will
give more than lip service to the legislation, which is doomed to fail
without the most active support of the White House.

The casino economy was (temporarily) "turned
around" by the transfer of many trillions of dollars of public funds to
Wall Street, mainly through the Federal Reserve. The bankster bailout
was carefully captained at every critical juncture by Barack Obama,
starting with his rescue of the initial bailout bill while still a
candidate. Meanwhile, Black America is going down, drowning in
unemployment, foreclosure, gentrification, mass incarceration and
accompanying social disintegration. African Americans have the great
misfortune to have invested all their political capital and energies in a
president who is actively hostile to any measures that would directly
address the particular Black condition, even as that condition
deteriorates by the day. It's past time that Blacks relearned a lesson: "If there is no struggle,
there is no progress." We need a movement.