Black Job Loss D?j? Vu

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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Black Job
Loss D?j? Vu

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