Too often during this election season, discussions of how Black males are faring economically have been lumped in with rants about “shared responsibility and sacrifice.” Yet new unemployment statistics out recently — alongside several decades of Black males disproportionately locked out of the mainstream economy or struggling at its lower to middle rungs — point to a different conclusion: American society has all but surrendered when it comes to the economic plight of Black men.
During the Great Recession, between 2007 and 2009, 8-million Americans lost their jobs. For African Americans, especially the poor and working class, the economic meltdown could be characterized as an inverse parody of their social fate turned on its head. Still struggling with the historical vestiges of unemployment, Blacks lead all ethnic groups with an unemployment rate of 14.1 percent, according to the most-recent data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (This, after topping 16 percent during 2011.)
Last month, the unemployment rate for African-American youth ages 16-19 was 36.6 percent, after approaching 50 percent during 2011. For African-American men and women 20 years and older, the unemployment rate was 14.8 and 11.5 percent, respectively, in July 2012.
The abysmal unemployment rate of African-American males, not to mention their high incarceration and low graduation rates, further compounds this economic catastrophe.
According to a 2012 Department of Labor Report (“The African-American Labor Force In Recovery”):
Blacks are the only racial or ethnic group for whom women represent a larger share of the employed than do men — more than half (53 percent) of the employed Blacks in 2011 were women, compared to 46.0 percent among employed Whites.
There has been no FDR-like political will in Washington to enact a variant of New Deal legislation aimed at creating jobs and fighting social ills in poor and working-class Black communities in our lifetime.
And given the endless partisan bickering, neither does one seem forthcoming. By contrast, philanthropic efforts that recognize the dire needs of at-risk communities and act upon them continue to step in boldly where government has failed to show leadership.
One bright spot is the newly created Black Male Achievement Fellowship Program, a collaboration between the Open Society Foundation’s Campaign For Black Male Achievement and Echoing Green. These fellowships are not mega-million or- billion-dollar-scale commitments, but they are a very important investment in ideas of individuals who have not given up imagining solutions to the problems facing Black men and boys.
Below is the inaugural 2012 Black Male Achievement Fellows that have nine members working on eight projects. In addition to other levels of technical and financial support, each of the fellows receives $70,000 in seed capital to develop and expand their non-profit organizations. The commitment to their projects are not a substitute for Great Society visions of government, but they are down payments on a way out of complex social issues and offer a ray of hope in a climate in which government retrenchment remains the prevailing mantra.
Bakari Kitwana is the author of the forthcoming Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama Era (Third World Press, 2012). Hakim Hasan is a contributor to NewsOne.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org