July 24th, 2008
09:41 AM ET

Recessions and black America

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.


CNN's Stephanie Elam examines the impact of a recession on blacks in the U.S.
CNN's Stephanie Elam examines the impact of a recession on blacks in the U.S.
Stephanie Elam
CNN Business News Correspondent

When I set out to do a story on the effect recessions have on black Americans, I was prepared for some dire statistics. I wasn’t pleasantly surprised. Here’s my biggest takeaway: as the unemployment rate increases for the population overall in a recession, the increase among blacks is roughly double. And when a recession hits, blacks take longer to regain employment after the economy recovers.

As if that isn’t bad enough, it was what I learned about younger black Americans that really left an impact. According to John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the unemployment rate for black teens is about twice that of white teens. In the recession that lasted from 1980 into 1982 – the black teen unemployment rate skyrocketed to 50 percent.

If young people can’t get a job, their future prospects are greatly limited. As Schmitt put it, people in this situation can languish in unemployment or low-wage jobs that don’t help build a foundation for future wage increases or better opportunities. The teenage unemployment rate for blacks is a huge indicator of the future.

No doubt there are several reasons for the disparity. For one thing, while the number of college-educated blacks continues to grow there is still a larger group that has a high school diploma or less. That’s the demographic that tends to suffer the most during a recession. Another problem is a decline in manufacturing jobs. In fact, most of the black American middle-class built its wealth through manufacturing and union jobs held in the fifties, sixties and seventies. At the end of the seventies, a quarter of black workers had manufacturing jobs. Today, that statistic is down to 10 percent.

A lot of the headlines at CNN are about Issue #1 – the economy – but it seems for many blacks in America the headline is even more specific: Jobs Wanted.

Filed under: Black in America • Economy • Stephanie Elam
soundoff (322 Responses)
  1. EdK

    Suggestion, get and watch the entire HBO series "WIRE". Very true example of urban youth, Especially the classroom scenes. It is unfrotunate that we watch this culture destroy itself, but it is multi generational and will take time to turn around and more time to build trust.

    I for one am more concerned with capability and ability than skin color. Make me look good, show you are trying, speak well and be a good representative of my company. You won't be laid off and if for some reason you must be, you won't be the first and you will be first to return. No magic and no color issue, just simple work ethic.

    This is America, we're all mutts, we're all from somewhere else, if you make an effort to fit in and do a good job, you will find work.

    July 24, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  2. matt

    AHH...finally the slavery issue. Umm...what were slave buyers and thus slave traders looking for:Healthy strong negroes or brainiacs??? Logically the rate of higher education among blacks now is quite low compared to others. BTW, i do not intend to be racist here, just simply trying to rationalize why blacks, after 200 almost 200 year free from slavery, are still lagging behind other races in this country.

    July 24, 2008 at 10:25 pm |
  3. Rippleyaliens

    AHH, The anger is in the air. Blacks this, blacks that.. Well, once again, this is Generation Y.. Both Whites and Blacks, TODAY, know not true racism. BUT the feelings are still here. Just read the statements. 98% of blacks, blah, blah, blah.. Dude, i am black, and i dont know 100 Blacks..myself. So how can you know 100 blacks, and 2 are good to go???
    It is very easy for white america, TODAY, 2008.. To say i'm not racist.. etc... TheFacts speak for themselves. Why are all these blacks messed up? well if you had -0- choice on where to go to school, where to grow up... You speak as if Every Black should be able to be like a typical white. It just doesnt happen over night.

    Today, Whites wonder themselves , why does black america have the attitudes we have? 10-12 Generations ago, Whites were in the same shoes, but was a different Country.. Great Britian. Whites evolved, to form the Great USA. Blacks, well we have came a LONG!!! way, in relative short amount of time. 50 years ago, blacks couldnt even ride the bus, without getting arrested. You must admit, things were like that. In the past? you say?? STILL Creating wealth takes generations... Pushing for education takes WEALTH.. Raising your Kids take Time and Money. Something that Blacks are just now getting. Yes recession hits Blacks hard. DUH.. But LIKE other people have said, it hits all races.
    Why so serious

    July 24, 2008 at 9:23 pm |

    Congrats to CNN, on a topic thats only purpose is to bring people to watch thier lowsy programming.... wonder how much the commercials segments cost and whos pocket the money goes into.... bet its the WHITE man.....

    July 24, 2008 at 9:23 pm |


    Stop crying.... get a job....

    Its tough on all people, but you have to fight to get ahead in life. Stop relying on the government to feed you, and get you job. Its hard on everyone except the few born into money. You make your own choices in life so live with them, its no one elses fault.

    I'm tired of the "i couldn't help that I got addicted to drugs and forced into a life of crime to get by".... please

    July 24, 2008 at 9:19 pm |
  6. Annie Kate

    With jobs being off-shored employment chances get worse for everyone here in America especially in some job sectors. I'm sure blacks have a tough time finding a job but older workers no matter what their color have trouble as well – if you are an experienced worker over 50 you are usually passed up for someone out of college with only a few years of experience because they can be paid so much cheaper – or at least that is the perception. I know several older workers who would work for the same wages as the young just to have some work. We need to look at our job market and our employment practices for everyone – there is lots of discrimination in it and its not just racial discrimination.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 24, 2008 at 9:18 pm |
  7. Earl

    What my fellow Americans are failing to realize is that regardless of the job situation, black people are always the first to be fired from a job regardless of education. So for all you folks out there talking about black men having babies and not being responsible; you need to look in your own back yard before you pass judgment. I don’t see white men taking care of their responsibilities. So lets stick to the facts, which are black people are the last to be hired and the first to be fired.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:39 pm |
  8. Loretta from California

    1% of black males have successfully obtained a place in cooperate America and 60% of white Americans believe that this is a great improvement since the 1960’s.
    It is tough to obtain a place in corporate America when you don’t have 2 parents taking care of you as a family. The truth of the matter is that their is competition for these jobs, and an individual who has two parents making sure that they are doing their hw is going to have an advantage over someone whose family is not encouraging them. If blacks do not want a family that is their own choice, but please do not act like the repurcussions are due to racism or descrimination
    So this answers the question as to why 60% of white Americans believe that there has been much improvement

    Let's say you are correct (as insane as this sounds) and there is no racism. That we African Americans are completely responsible for the condition in which we live today, Why, when only 1% of African American males are successfully employed by cooperate America, would anyone believe that "this is a GREAT improvement" since the 1960's

    July 24, 2008 at 7:36 pm |
  9. Allan

    Three things are Important in finding and keeping a good job for the Average Working Class American. Note: Statements Below Do Not Apply to Blue-Bloods and Trust Fund Babies.

    1) Ability to communicate in the workplace in English =Proper English.
    2) Discipline to tough out ugly starting wage jobs for chance at a promotion to a decent family wage job: (paying your dues to climb up).
    3) Desire to learn new skills continuously throughout your working career. (Or loose your job to an Asian making $1.00 per day).

    Find a young Black (Or White or Red) American who is doing all of these three things, and you will find a person who has gainful employment. Trouble is Gen X and GenY are the "entitlement" generations who want a 100K job without any means of attaining a 20K job, now that Walmart has helped export every last family wage manufacturing job to asia.

    July 24, 2008 at 7:16 pm |
  10. johann

    Currently, there are more african american men in prison than there are in college.

    Education is how to get ahead in this world.

    Figure it out!

    July 24, 2008 at 7:16 pm |
  11. michael

    The Koreans, Asians and other minorities dont have Reverend Jackson or others railing against the system. Insteady, their two parent families makes sure they succeed in school and they end up doing well in college.

    Until the black community looks within and gets control of the social ills that plague them at a much higher level than other cultures – high % single parent homes, lack of male parent, unwed teenage mothers, etc. the problems will continue. With fewer manufacturing jobs unless you speak Chinese or Indian, best to stay in school, stay off drugs and out of the bedroom.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:42 pm |
  12. Andre

    WOW...good to see the country coming together in unity LOL

    July 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm |
  13. EdK

    During the time you mention, I was renovating brownstones in DC. My experience: Many job applicants with no experience, not really a problem. Showing up late, showing up only 3 days a week, Showing up drunk, showing late and drunk, retuning from lunch drunk or high, going out to lunch and notcoming back, these are the problems. Unfortunatley,this was the rule rather than the exception. It is very hard to retain an employee with such a lack of discipline.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:26 pm |
  14. H P

    Nicho, just chill. Watch your blood pressure!!
    The recession doesn't discriminate. It affects us all.
    Personally, I think this program and blog only tarnish the black image. It gives me the impression that the black people are weak and just like to complaint for everything including their own messes. However, all my black co-workers are none of that. They are strong-minded, logical and smart individuals, who would face any hardship / obstacle head-on with a smile. So in a nut shell, this is not helping the black communities and certainly our current black Preditial Candidate.
    FYI, our line of work is white-male dominant, but I (asian & female) and my black co-worker are still shine.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:19 pm |
  15. sdickey

    The reasons why they are effected is look at the drop out rate from school. Do not put the race card in this issue. There are also other factors that make them more effected by a recession. Living in Metro areas. that are impacted the hardest.

    July 24, 2008 at 6:04 pm |
  16. Lawrence

    *Points to vince* if your going to look for everlasting pity, that's not going to work.......

    Slavery, segregation, discrimination, yes it did happen.
    But blacks can't move forward if their culture consistently lives in the past. A past that was cruel and unforgettable but must be left behind.
    Those people fought back then to win our (yes, I'm black too) freedom.
    Yet, some of our fellow black people tarnish their legacy by resorting to violence, drugs and in other cases acquiescence.

    Yes, we are disadvantaged (like I said in my last post), always have been. But doesn’t mean we have to act helpless, desperate or stupid in the event of this crisis. Instead, we should strive to make our mark in society, breakthrough the invisible ceiling.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  17. In DC

    re: Vince – Phoenix *clap clap clap*

    July 24, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  18. Racists_R_Stupid

    Wow.. all it takes is a column reporting about the hard economic condition facing the Black community – and voila all the racists started crawling out under their bigoted rocks to mount an attack of a simple reporting facts. The writer did not even mention anything about "racism" or "what government hand out needed to be given to the Black community" – all they said was the statistics bear the fact that THESE people lose their jobs fast in a recession, and the fact that they don't get their jobs back as quick during the recover.
    And here we have – everyone spouting "I hate this . I hate that" .. Well look in the mirror – you are your hate , you idiotic mindless neanderthals.. no wonder the world is eating your lunch !!!

    July 24, 2008 at 5:22 pm |
  19. NoWay

    But how is the recession affecting Obama? Why isn't this article focused on Obama? Isn't all the press supposed to be writing about Obama right now?

    July 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm |
  20. Paul

    There are a lot of people who are hurting because of the 'recession', regardless of colour, nationality, and culture. We all agree with this, but the main point here is that blacks suffer the most when there is a recession, and after the recession has subsided. We still do not live in an equal society, and when times get tough, it becomes even tougher for blacks on a whole. So are we equal?

    July 24, 2008 at 5:13 pm |
  21. Bill

    "Statistics don't lie." I'm always amused how people react to statistics ...

    A few months back there was an article stating that ~1 in 10 African Americans had at one time been incarcerated. Certain people chose to believe that this statistic failed to account for the underlying cause and that this was actually irrefutable evidence that blacks were unduly targeted in the justice system.

    Now there is a statistic that states African Americans are more impacted during recessions. Once again, hereis irrefutable evidence that blacks are victims of discrimination.

    I fully agree that statistics don't lie; however, statistics such as these don't prove causality. Both of the explanations mentioned above are plausible ... as is the possibility of absolute chance. All the statistics really prove is (a) more blacks are unemployed for longer during recessions and (b) more blacks have been to prison. Any other attempted insight from these statistics is no more than speculation.

    July 24, 2008 at 5:05 pm |
  22. Nicho

    Let's just keep it real...RIGHT NOW!! I think many of you are missing the entire point. The recession affects blacks more because we were already being affected prior to the recession. If you can't be honest with the fact that racism exists and is evident in every area of life, then get off of this blog. Also, as far as the comment about black women having so many children and black fathers not being responsible...there may be some truth to that. But let's look at the white side...I know so many white females who get pregnant just as much, but choose to abort the child (Now, does that make them better??) They abort because they want to cover up their irresponsibility, but the fact remains that they laid down and got pregnant just as much as the black girl on the other side of town. Not to mention the white men who may be in the household, but are having affairs and not being attentive to their children. And let's not forget the fathers who walk away and don't look back or the young white males that don't take care of their children either. Don't try to make it like your race is better than an entire race of people.....YOUR'E NOT!!!! Also, black people stand up and let people like Cindy understand a little better. It's not a whoa is me story Cindy. If anything we are a proud people who are able to deal with the struggles that are thrown our way and survive. Let's not forget about history and all of the things our people had to suffer, but we are still making it. And doing well in many situations. Cindy and all of your supporters on the band wagon need to trace back and tell us what have you suffered, better yet..what have your ancestors suffered. Get a grip and don't put yourself in the same category as we, because you don't fit. It's totally different. As far as the question from the Asian gentleman, did your ancestors choose to come to America or were they sold and forced?

    July 24, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
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