The National Urban League held an online session about the state of the urban job market at the end of last week in the wake of the latest Department of Labor unemployment statistics. The event was part of its State of Urban Jobs initiative, a project that is dedicated to “ensuring that every American has access to jobs with a living wage and good benefits by 2025.”
There was much ado last fall when America’s unemployment rate teetered over 10% for the first time since the 1980s, though it was nothing new for African American who live in urban communities which have been at or near the 10% unemployment mark since December 2001.
According to the National Urban League’s 2010 Equality Index, “in 2009, the African-American unemployment rate was on average 1.8 times higher than that of whites…the “African-American median household income was 62% of that earned by white households and African Americans were more than three times as likely as whites to live below the poverty line.”
Even though the number of unemployed stands at 14.8 million, for the first time in many quarters the number of new jobs increased. Economic output increased by 2.8 percent in the third quarter led by consumer spending, residential investment, net private inventories and federal government spending, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Further, according to the National Urban League, “this year will likely mark the end of the greatest economic downturn the nation has experienced since the Great Depression, bringing us to a crossroads in terms of mapping out a plan for economic recovery that is inclusive and widespread.”
In preparation for the country rising out of the recession, the Urban League pointed out that the 2010 census revealed that the country’s future workforce will be more diverse than ever before. “If we are to maximize our potential as a nation and achieve optimal economic growth, we simply cannot afford to continue to under-educate, under-employ or under-pay anyone,” the organization states on its website.
During the online chat session, Economist Dr. Valerie Rawlston Wilson, who is also a Vice President of Research at the National Urban League Policy Institute, provided her thoughts on what needs to be done going forward to empower job seekers. “My advice for workers over the next 24 months — be proactive & educate yourself about what’s taking place in our economy in terms of new industries or where federal investments are being made.”
Wilson urged those hunting for jobs to look at markets involving clean energy, infrastructure, innovation/technology, education and healthcare. “[D]evelop and market your skills to meet the demands of the jobs needed in those industries,” she said. “Also be on the lookout for business opportunities – where are there unmet needs? You could be a job creator.”
Dr. Wilson also echoed what has been reiterated by many working to encourage broadband adoption as a means of spurring greater opportunity for members of urban communities. “I see online training as a great tool because by removing the barrier of having to get to a set location at a specific time (like in a classroom setting) it makes training more accessible to more people as they have access to a computer with [an] internet connection.” Wilson also noted that, “for some time the economy has been moving toward jobs that require more technical skills and/or a college degree. Training or education are investments in your future earnings and employability.”
Several participants in the chat expressed frustration on behalf of ex-offenders within the African American community who are having a challenging time finding a job in a market filled with highly qualified people with clean criminal histories. Wilson offered some suggestions. “This again is where programs with a solid record of helping get people the training and skills needed to re-enter the workforce.”
Finally, for those curious bout the private sector’s reluctance to hire and how the change in administration from Democratic control of the House to a Republican majority may impact African Americans and job growth, Wilson offered her theories. “Two-thirds of the U.S. economy is driven by consumption, or what I’ve been referring to loosely as demand. Consumption has been low for a number of reasons – unemployment, the housing crisis, tighter lending standards by banks…[and] people paying debts off rather than engaging in new spending.”
Despite the fact that some have suggested that businesses are reluctant to spend and hire until it is determined in January how the increase in taxes or the healthcare bill will affect their costs and bottom lines, Wilson contends that the absence of demand is what is driving the job shortage. “If demand were there, they would hire people to meet them.”
“Most evidence suggests that a structural skills mismatch is not the biggest challenge to unemployment in this country — low demand is,” she said. “The jobs that are available today are not so different from those that were available a couple years ago and unemployment has affected people at all skill levels. So there are certainly qualified people available to fill jobs.”
Wilson said that the government can do a few things to stimulate job growth: directly create jobs, give people more money through tax cuts/credits, provide incentives for banks to lend to small businesses, which are the major source of employment across the country. So far, Wilson noted, the government has done all of the above except directly create jobs.