The 'Great Migration,' in which millions of black people left the South to take factory jobs in the North and the Midwest, was a pillar of black employment. In the 1970s, these same people were laid off in droves as their jobs were shifted overseas or back to the low-paying, nonunion South. History is now repeating itself, with the 2001 recession hurting black workers more than any previous recession. Moreover, African Americans are feeling the pain of unemployment much more than their white counterparts, with black unemployment rising twice as fast as white unemployment.
With fewer assets and resources to sustain them during hard times, African American families are often hit harder by unemployment than their white counterparts. Laid-off black factory workers also have a harder time finding new jobs, which are often located in the public-transportation-inaccessible suburbs. Pervasive housing discrimination and segregation prevent relocation, and some employers have even admitted to relocating to the suburbs to avoid black workers.
The media have been reluctant to cover this facet of the employment crisis, choosing instead to focus on white workers losing jobs in the technical sector. Like the current unemployment problems, this disparity in media representation has happened before. In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it is called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it is called a depression.'
Unemployment certainly poses a larger threat to the black
community than it does to the white community. The director of the
Indiana AFL-CIO describes the closing of an Indianapolis seat belt
plant in 2003, whose laid-off work force was 75% African American:
'They were taken from the street into decent-paying jobs; they were
making $12 to $13 an hour. These young men started families, dug
in, took apartments, purchased vehicles. It was an
up-from-the-street experience for them, and now they are being
returned to their old environment.'
-- Brendan Themes
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