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U.S. jobs picture looking bleaker for Black youth

Datwa M. Morales | 12/8/2010, 5 p.m.

Nearly half of all Black youth in the nation who are looking for work are not getting hired, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.

In October, 48 percent of African Americans, ages 16 to 19, who were actively looking for work could not find jobs. That's more than double the rate of White youths looking for jobs.

"It's eye-popping," said Amar Mann, supervising economist in the San Francisco office of the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. "These are the kids (who) want to work but can't find work."

Their parents haven't faired much better. The national unemployment rate for civilian, non-institutionalized African Americans has remained above 15 percent for the past year, and has hovered above 16 percent for six out of the past 12 months, according to data from the department.

For the month of November, the unemployment rate for Blacks nationally was 16 percent, 13.2 percent for Hispanics, 8.9 percent for Whites and 7.6 percent for Asians. In California, the unemployment rate for African Americans is 18.6, percent and a little more than 35 percent of Black youth in the state are job hunting and can't find jobs, according to the California Employment Development Department (EDD).

A successful jobs program run last summer by Hire L.A., a citywide initiative, found jobs for more than 8,500 youth, a third of which were African Americans. That program was funded with federal stimulus money, but funding for next year is uncertain.

Hire L.A. continues to offer a job-readiness training program for youth. More than 37,000 youth throughout Los Angeles have taken advantage of this service, which prepares youth for their first job interview with resume development, drug testing and mock interviews with volunteer executives.

Also in the November unemployment report just released by the federal government, job gains continued in temporary help services and health care, while employment fell in retail and stayed relatively flat in manufacturing and other major industries. More than 15 million Americans, including 2.2 million Californians are out of work.

Statewide, jobs were added in professional and business services, educational and health services, leisure and hospitality, mining and logging, and other service-related industries. Construction, manufacturing, trade, transportation, utilities, information, finance and government posted job losses, according to the EDD.

Rodney D. Green, Ph.D., economist and director of the Center for Urban Progress at Howard University in Washington, D.C., suggests that African Americans in Los Angeles and other cities may have to look beyond downtown for jobs. "On average, job growth is occurring in suburban and exurban areas moreso than in city neighborhoods. It will be important to not have to rely on public transportation to increase job prospects."

"Certainly that has been the case for decades because that is how the country has grown in the last 30 years," said David Eder, staff member of the Los Angeles Workforce Investment Board. "While there are always businesses wanting to do business here, what you'll find will be small businesses with a few jobs here and there."

The exceptions, Eder and Green agree, are major employers like hospitals and universities. "A relatively good place to look for jobs are in hospitals and transit systems," Green said. "These jobs cannot be readily outsourced, and most of the jobs in these areas do not require advanced post-collegiate training."

International trade, the entertainment industry and hospitality are also expected to be major employers as the local economy rebounds in the next few years, according to an upcoming report from the city and the Los Angeles Economic Development Commission. "We've hit the bottom and going up may be very slow," Eder said of the economy. "It won't be bad forever."

As for Black youth who are job hunting, they too may have to look outside of their neighborhoods in order to find work. Eder said he encourages parents to determine within their limits of safety what areas their teens can work, particularly those who take the bus. "You have to go where you can go to get a job," he said.