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. Karen ( Minneapolos )

    well i did watch " Black in America", which is i do kind agree with it. Why do we always talk about black more than any other race? i am from the middle and i always been harassed about my accent and where i come from all the time in canada and the US. Eventhough i speak 5 languages fluently i just ignore them and i guarantee whoever did comment about my accent can barerly speak english themselve. People are so ignorant in North America, i do apologize from my friends ( all of them black americans) if they read but thats the truth. i have been all over the world travelling and never seen as much ignorance as in here which unfortunately i am still living here to raise a daughter who was born in NA. why CNN never mentioned middle eastern and had report on them? why is it always black? i dont agree that we always mention black in america and not arabs in america or asian in america and so on.... recesion hitting EVERYONE and not only balck. NEED TO STOP RACISM, report and cover all races equally. i do struggle every damn day for being the color that i am and the accent that i have. RACISM need to stop, cobver all races or just dont cover anyone. Also to mention i am Middle Eastern Jewish. I do watch CNN all the time and read on CNN.COM.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:12 pm |
  2. Lori Smith

    Why is the media playing the race game? We all know that it is hard times right now and no matter what race we are we don't need to be reminded of that!!! It is very distasteful for CNN and other media to use race in that equation.....

    July 24, 2008 at 1:12 pm |
  3. Bill

    Instead of making it a black thing or a white thing, make it a people probelm.

    Blacks are not the only race where in the baby making business and the fathers disappearing. I know one heck of a lot of whites doing the same thing.

    Guys need to contol their middle leg and women need to keep them both closed when the average Joe is vibrating.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:12 pm |
  4. Carrie A

    Jim B. You were a slave? You must be very, very old.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Dsf_27

    Why doesn't CNN just write an official statement:

    Blacks have it harder than whites and whites should feel guilty.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  6. aztekman

    @Mike: What is inadequate in American Society? I worked three jobs out of high school to save money for college and other tools to make it to where I am today. There are a Huge number of Black, lower income individuals who live the American Dream in the Adequate American Society.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  7. Thomas Horne

    the story is a bunch of hog wash.blacks have the same chance for education as anyone else.i am so sick of all the whining about blacks having it so bad.it's like the blacks blame the whites for them being black.they can be anything they set their minds to.stop blaming white people for your own faults.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  8. Todd

    Is race the real issue?

    I think you would find that unemployment numbers will be higher under less skilled groups. Flexibility also plays a role because I know I would move to find work.

    The blacks for whatever reason remain less educated, and I appreciate people like Calvin that understand the need for education.

    We need to get away from the race issue entirely and start focusing on the issues of this country. We are all going to be unemployed if jobs keep getting sent overseas, mine may move there soon.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:11 pm |
  9. NateSC

    Today's society actually reaffirms the cultural issues that effect african american culture. It is an issue that African American need to solve waiting for others to solve it is a mistake. Others can speak all you want, anyone can say anything from the outside. If you are on the inside then you have not only the right to speak but the responsibility to act.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm |
  10. Joe in Katy

    Always playing the race card aren't we. It's always better to blame someone else than to take responsibility for ones own actions.

    Grow up and realize the world is a cold hard place and only YOU can make it be what you dream it to be. No one else holds your destiny for you. Your destiny and dreams are won with hard work, that is what makes is sweeter than just having someone hand it too you.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm |
  11. Erik

    I think it is hilarious for you to say that blacks have a harder time finding employment. When you have AA, black/minority career websites/job banks where there are listings that aren't on the mainstreams sites, and finally when I have to check a box of my ethnicity. And if you are in a field say engineering, where there aren’t many minorities to begin with, you want to tell me that the most qualified person is always selected? Conversely, I am sure there have been times where it has went the other way, but don’t pretend blacks have it any worse than anyone else, that is utterly racist.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm |
  12. David

    Everyone can finish school, even those with family problems can take it upon themselves to obtain a GED or something at SOME time in their life. Furthermore, just about everyone can go to college (the government makes it really easy). It is entirely possible to get into college with little or no money if one applies for financial aid and has decent grades. Both of these factors substantially help in finding jobs, education is the most important thing, having an education shows potential employers that you are not afraid of hard work.
    I totally understand the part of the story talking about languishing in low-paying jobs that don't offer much opportunity for salary advancement, but those are still JOBS and ends CAN still be met with the salaries they earn, meager as they may be.
    We have become a society of large "social" groups all wanting to blame their misfortunes on others, in the meantime, we've all lost sight of the fact that life is inherently demanding AND incredibly difficult SO it's up to US to make if better.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:10 pm |
  13. LMII

    Wow! I love reading these blogs. It just says so much about this country when I am treated better while traveling abroad than by my fellow (white) Americans. What are you going to feel like when you become the 'minority'?

    Will we ever openly deal with race?

    Matt, I know someone who's alive today who knew someone who was a slave. My 100 year old greatgrandmother's mother was.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
  14. JT

    The Nazi party killed approximately 6 million Jews.
    Jews were not allowed to own land, be newspaper editors, teach Germans, serve in the military, or have national health insurance. Jews were forced to carry identification cards, register their property, were not allowed outside past 8 in the winter and 9 in the summer, and were required to have a large, red “J” on their passports. concentration camps. Thousands were starved to death and forced to work as slaves at the concentration camps
    Should there be a Jews in American program too?

    July 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
  15. RP

    Im a black man in my 30's . I didnt graduate college and have been working for 10 years in a skilled labor position. I agree that recession hits everyone but it is inevitable that some groups will be hit harder than others and blacks fit into that category. Others include immigrants and poor whites. If you were already close to the bottom than recession pushes you further down. I dont think this topic was raised to increase tensions between races as some of the bloggers above have seemed to take it but to state facts. Instead of us focusing are frustration at each other through words we should be voiceing it towards the government who is terribly failing us all. The jobs are outsourced, the prices are inflated, and nobody cares about the future. We really need to reaccess our values and do what it takes so that no one has to be impoverished and uneducated unless they choose to.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Chris

    I am a caucasian male, and according to alot of your commenters, privileged. Well, I am still waiting for them to pull the silver spoon out of my mouth.
    While society continues to preach that we should ignore race and ethnicity, this type of reporting continues to segregate Americans by race. No one ever gave me anything, I have worked for all of my life from the time I was young. Joined the Military to get an education and went from there.
    Apparently there has been no progress for African-Americans since the time of slavery. That's what I get from this type of stereotypical reporting to boost ratings and drama. Why is there never any reporting on successes in the African-American community? Why, because it will not boost the ratings.
    There is racism in this country...that needs to be addressed. But racism crosses all boundaries, black as well as white, or whatever your color. When we decide to be just Americans, not african, italian, japanese, mexican or whatever your moniker of the day, maybe then we will understand that all people suffer injustice.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  17. EE

    Whats with the seperation of the races lately!!??
    We are all sufferieng as Americans......neither white nor black are having it easier or harder............ the news is trying to build a nice media storm......hopefully they won't get what they want!

    Education, morals, and hard work helps to keep the bad economy from driving everyone to deep depression but those who are not willing to work hard to fight this, then deserves what they get and feel.

    I am getting tired of hearing about how hard Blacks have it!!
    How bieng Black in America is difficult...... it's BS.
    Get over it, get off your butt, and make something of yourselves.
    I want to see something about being White in America...how about that?? I wonder how that segment would go...LOL

    July 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  18. Dave

    CNN, I'm sick of you portraying how much harder it is for the black folk...We know where you stand and I'm sick of it. Time to turn to msnbc for my news.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
  19. Paul

    I used to work for MGIC. Only a single black male in whole HQ building. By the way 50% of the milwaukee population is black. Now that f**king hurts.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  20. bo

    Everyone – stop preaching and go help someone who may not be as fortunate and well-informed as you are.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  21. KAT

    So manny respondents on this board are misguided.
    The article alone brought out a s-load of steroytypes and prjudices that keep people of today from succeeding in total.

    Vinny, Matt , Herman and others like you do a dis-service to the progress made y the majority of minorities.

    Should all non minorities be judged by your attitiudes?

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  22. Julie

    Oh come on!! Whites are having a hard time just like everyone else. But I guess you are trying/having to be PC. If you had titled and wrote your article on "Recessions Hits Whites in America Harder" your editor would have not let the article run.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  23. Randall Carmeans

    Go to college in electrical engineering even though neither parent graudated from high school. Have $52,000 in student loans like me. Then start off at around $80,000 in Mississippi and the recession doesn't hurt as bad. Pay student loans off within three years and quit complaining about the bad economy.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  24. April

    Personally I am tired of hearing minority (whichever one) this or minority that. By placing minorities in the "down and out" category, the media is doing them no favors. I think that there should be equality for all. I would be willing to bet that for ever single unemployed african american in this country, you would be able to find an unemployed caucasian american, korean american, japanese american, american indian, Latin – American, etc. The african americans in this country have it no better and no worse than any other group if you look at the big picture. Just as there are wealthy and/or high profile caucasians, there are wealthy/ high – profile african americans, it's a fact. There might be more caucasians in this position, but that's due to history, not common day issues.

    It's a fact that countries are generally run by those that have more money, with which to gain power, advantage etc. But that money generally had to come from somewhere, either from hard work of their own, or their ancestors. Granted, the "white" americans have had a longer time to build up their fortunes, but that in no way changes that "black" americans have just the same opportunities as everyone else in this country. It's a question of seizing that opportunity.

    It's time that the minorities in this country stop looking for excuses as to why they "can't" and see the reasons why the CAN.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  25. joshua

    Let me guess, it's all whitey's fault. For the love of God, stop !!!!!!!!!!

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  26. H. Charles

    "If black folks want to really get ahead,
    Pull your pants up, learn to speak english, start respecting each other, the law, and the neighborhoods you live in."

    That statement is a little wild. I do understand where you're coming from but I've seen white folks with the same issues. Being from the black community, I'll be honest with you. The black people who have made it and are successful are typically only worried about the people surrounding them. Their family. They move their families out of neighborhoods that are mostly black into mostly white neighborhoods because conditions are better instead of staying and fighting for better conditions. I believe that many of our problems start with our own people. This series is not intended to show that all black people are polite and educated. We all know that is not the case. But, a lot of white people believe that we are uneducated, "ghetto", and angry. We are not all like that, just like all white people are not educated, well spoken, and polite. I've seen similarities on both sides. In the end, we're all Americans. We're not black or white. Some Americans are uneducated, angry, and wear their pants low. I'm not one of those Americans.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:07 pm |
  27. Bill

    Well you are all getting closer to the real problems.

    1. Manufacturing jobs are all but gone in America, thanks to NAFTA.

    2. The Skilled Workforce is all but gone in America, thanks to #1.

    3. Engineering Research, Design & Development is all but gone in America, thanks to #1 and #2.

    4. Less demand for Engineers and Skilled Workers in the Workplace thanks to #1

    5. Enrollment in Techncal and Engineering Schools is down since there is little demand, in fact when the Baby Boomers are retired, we will be totally dependent on China for everything.

    PS: Its not a black thing. Its an Education Thing and Politics.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  28. Irma Robinson

    My comment is directed to Ms Elam and is the same comment and question I call and write to CNN and the FCC year in and year out asking why does CNN demean the Black community's rights of Free Speech? toe examples.

    1. Why does not one Black person, male or female have an anchor position on CNN? Or, co-host and hostess on prime time news hours?

    2.Why are all of the co-host and co-hostess on CNN light skined?

    The Black in America special is just the opposit of what is being taught to our Black children about Black Pride and why we must resist any and all efforts to continue to believe that our Culture began in Slavery and has no relationship to it is a culture of survival in America. Pride for me is to resist and keep trying to get Black skined people "employed" on CNN as qualified to be an anchor on cable news networks like CNN. And, the only way to do this is to use these Black in America special to show just how far the Blacks in America have not come since Dr. M. L. King.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  29. jack phoenix

    How much longer do we have to put up with this Black in America hardship line. We all have hardhips, some people deal with them better than others. Why are we giving so much aid to AFRICA if so much is needed here. All depends on who wants to make the news.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  30. Steve

    "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."

    I'd like to see your proof of these numbers. This means nothing unless you compare it to the number of blacks that graduate from college versus whites.

    If all else fails, play the race card. Works every time.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  31. Kevin

    Everything now that Obama is running for Pres is about race. Can you please do an objective report for once??? I would love for you to do another study about who a recession effects the most based on economic class level. The fact is a recession kills the middle class. There is more of a percentage of middle class blacks than there are middle class whites based on population percentages. Therefore more percentage of blacks will be effected. However, a recession does not look at someone's skin color and decides who to hurt more. This is a economic class battle: middle class gets screwed while upper class are rich enough, and poor get everything given to them anyway. So STOP with the race talk, start with the economic class talk!

    July 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm |
  32. Tom

    Hey TC....Were you ever a slave? Anyone in your immediate family a slave? Your Grandparents a slave? Their parents? All I here are excuses. Its getting the the point where the African American Community needs to start pointing the finger at themselves and not at everyone and everything else

    July 24, 2008 at 1:05 pm |
  33. C from Texas

    How can the Blacks not find work? All the Mexicans that come over here find work. Maybe the Blacks would rather just sit home and draw their un-employment checks? There's jobs to be had no matter what Race you are, just the question is, do you want to work or not? Maybe if the government stops giving them a free hand out every time they ask for it they would be working. What comes too my mind is that we are still supporting all the Katrina people, after 3 years they still claim they can't find a job but people coming from Mexico can find work the next day. Maybe its a culture thing.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:05 pm |
  34. Jen

    I truly and ethically believe everyone has a valid point. however, i am biracial and I never think of myself as more one side than the other. I have graduated from a prestigious Big 10 school, working on my masters, and work full-time in the corporate world.

    My thoughts-
    Why don't I see Jews-who have been absurdly persecuted for the past 2000 years-getting "victimized"?

    Native Americans- We killed most and sent the other to live on reservations while Europeans took their land. Nothing is never in the news about them

    The N word- We never hear either of the other 2 races,as mentioned above, calling each other demeaning names trying to "get back the power" Sometimes I just don't understand

    Food for thought

    July 24, 2008 at 1:05 pm |
  35. mj

    I just wanted to clear up a comment that Nadine Buchko (Pittsburgh, PA) made about black women having babies all the time, and not using protection by black men who don't father their children. I am a college graduate, and a black man who is with my child and his mother. I am tired of hearing the white media slander my beautiful black queens with "black women are promiscious" because they keep their babies. First off because of the socioeconomic gaps between the rich and poor, people in impoverished "ghettos" many poor black people may go to free clinics who publish data. Now the question should be how many children would you have if you didn't abort them. Probably not public knowledge of all the other races that have abortions all the time, because of alcholism and lack of contraception. I have heard of many a frat boys who have run trains on little perfect white and other race women, who don't accept responsibility for their actions. Lets tell both sides of the coin, and not leave out the truth. Having children early is one element to the disparity of socioeconomic reasons why the gap between groups are so far apart.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:04 pm |
  36. jim

    what is wrong with CNN? Whats up with all the racial articles?

    Keep going and Obama will end up like Cafferty.. A major loser..

    July 24, 2008 at 1:04 pm |
  37. In DC

    P.S. I'm also with Susan - this racial conversation is a distraction from the things that could unite us.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:04 pm |
  38. BenB

    Of course, if you included ALL minorities in this study, you'd find Native Americans by far hit worse than blacks or any one else.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm |
  39. Justin

    So let's see, the statistics show that you have a harder time getting a job if you are uneducated? Well then, get educated. Why does the media insist on making this a racial issue? If you're white and uneducated, you're not getting a job either. Maybe the real issue here is that there are more uneducated Blacks? Why don't you try to tackle that problem instead of having me sing you a swan song for being born, and please stop making excuses enabling the Black community to accept failure.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  40. Sheryl

    It is very tiring hearing the Black this and the Black that, stories that say "A black women in America" Blacks have it harder that the whites, it isn't just the Blacks, it is all races, when a company is hiring and if they don't have a mixed race employed then just about eavery race calls the race card. It used to be that blacks WERE a minority, but it is slowly turning around and becoming Whites as a minority.

    I people would just take resonsibility for there own actions in life, be responsible, be truthful then there shouldn't be a problem.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  41. CDL

    It seems to me that the real issue here is what the sociologists call socioeconomic status. I think that a recession hurts people at the lower end of the economic scale first and hardest, since they have little if any financial reserves, either as savings to draw on or as luxuries in their budget that can be cut. I don't think race per se has anything to do with it, other than there happens to be a significant black population in these lower strata.

    Regardless of race, anyone in these lower strata will be harmed more by a recession than those with greater economic resources. I believe that if the studies mentioned in the article had corrected for socioeconomic status, you would find that the experience of poor black teens was more like that of poor white teens than that of middle class black teens.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  42. In DC

    Wow! I didn't read in Anderson's article that the recession doesn't hurt everyone - he's saying it affects the black community more deeply than the white community. Why is that so hard for you all to accept?

    This is not a surprise (stating the obvious there Anderson) as the same statistics show up in good economic times - it is not easy being black in America. Why do some whites feel the need to banish the notion that color has anything to do with it?

    Of COURSE there are stories of hard times on whites - Anderson isn't talking about those - he's exploring the economy from a race perspective - which is relevant, because it's not just the economy where statistics of disadvantage play out (1 in 4 black men are jailed at 9 times the rates of white men, black children are 80% more likely to attend underperforming/under-funded schools). Whether you want to accept the truth is irrelevant, but please, stop the" woe is me" as a white person.

    We've all got it hard. We get it. No body is trying to take away your phlight - so please don't try to take it away from others. It's these kinds of conversations that perpetuate the racial divide. As a white person, I suggest you get educated.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm |
  43. scott

    Good thing they studied a recession that is 26 YEARS OLD to write this piece. Whether we like it or not, things change a TON in 26 years....including recessions and it's fallout.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  44. Jarbeau

    Wow, it seems CNN has decided its mission is to feul the racial discourse in our country. Congratulations, in less than three weeks you have set race relations back several decades. I hope you are proud. The next thing you'll do is start pointing out the differences in how blacks, whites, and latinos water their lawns or wash their cars.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  45. Eladio

    The recession hits even harder when people place more importance on what they want as opposed to what they need. Why is it that these young people that lack jobs continue to spend money on $175-$400 sneakers, $30 baseball caps, $60 t-shirts, $100+ jeans, and earrings so large you can use them as plates? Funny how these same kids stand by banks, malls, and other businesses asking for donations or selling candy for basketball camp or whatever lame excuse instead of even looking for a job.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  46. DMC

    Everyone is harmed by recession, racism, violence, joblessness, you name it. I am tired of hearing about the hardships of select groups of people. I believe that the more focus is placed on race and cultural differences, the more the problems will magnify. If you think it is a problem, then it most assuredly will become a problem. Too many whiners and not enough problem solvers.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  47. Ikeford3

    Education and proper upbringing starts at home. Skin color has nothing to do with how one conducts themself. If your mother and (hopefully) father didn't instill proper morals and values in you as a child-you see what appears today....Young Adults thinking the world owes them, Wrong attitudes and not willing to work for what they basically need to strive in a fast pace global environment.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  48. Thomas

    Rob, you are correct. I am a black high school principal. It is time to move past civil rights and recognize that some problems are family, community, etc. When people, for whatever reason, drop out of high school or fail to get properly trained for a skill or profession, they suffer the consequences. The problem is larger in the black community because educational attainment is not as high a priority in our community. There are systemic problems that contribute to the poor educational opportunity but those are problems in several racial, ethic groups. It is time to stop focusing on race and to start focusing on the problems.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:01 pm |
  49. Ni

    I agree with Nadine Buchko completely; why would someone have kids he/she can't support? And then expect society to support them?! Learn to take own responsibility first. Everyone has had it hard now – there's no specific group that's having it better.

    July 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm |
  50. Chris

    The american dream (an illusion), the corporate ladder (doesn't exist). You must create your own these days.
    There is a limit on welfare, so blacks can't rely on it for long, if they are on it. Do blacks have bias against white for the most part, do whites have biases against blacks definately. Although I don't like Don Imus, I can respect him, bcause convert racism is the worse kind, and from many of your comments it sounds like it is definately there. Just come out and say it, you will be more respected.

    Chris from Philly

    July 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm |
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