The recession has been real for the past few years and unfortunately for people in our community there has been no relief or recovery; meanwhile white people have been able to overcome:
Who gets more job callbacks: White felons or blacks with clean records?
Horace Davis did become a drug dealer. He illustrates another dimension of the recession’s impact on blacks: While law-abiding folks are falling out of the middle class, those who got in trouble with the law are further than ever from a second chance.
After serving four years for drug trafficking, Davis walked out of prison into the middle of the recession in 2008. “I thought to myself, I’m older, I need to get a job, move on. The dope game was dead to me,” Davis says, sitting on a concrete porch in an Asheville, N.C., housing project.
In the past few decades of the “War on Drugs,” harsh sentencing laws have sent a disproportionate number of black people to prison, even though blacks are not more likely than whites to sell or use drugs, according to a 2008 report by the Sentencing Project. Today, about 280,000 African-Americans emerge from behind bars each year. They are often the last of the last to be hired.
After Davis got out, he spent months applying for dozens of jobs mopping floors or flipping burgers. He carried a letter from the state offering a $2,500 tax credit for hiring ex-offenders. He got one call back, from a chicken restaurant. “We’ll be in touch,” Davis remembers them saying. They weren’t.
“Nobody wants black felons in their businesses,” says Davis, 26.
A 2003 University of Chicago study by Devah Pager sent young white and black “testers” to apply for real low-wage jobs. Some of the testers were randomly assigned felony convictions. The study found that whites with felonies were slightly more likely to get callbacks than black applicants without criminal records. “The penalty of a criminal record is more disabling for black job seekers than whites,” Pager and other researchers wrote in a follow-up study in 2009.
Davis says he learned skills in prison: “How to cook, clean, horticulture, janitorial. I can do it. I’ve been trained. Tile, carpentry, mortar, edging and trimming, all that. I can operate a backhoe, a roller. Any opportunity to do something that would show my talents, I’d do it. It would be my ticket out the streets.
“I just need someone to give me that chance. A nice construction job, anything. I would hold onto that until I die.”
Some economists say the real black unemployment rate is as high as 25 or 30 percent, because government figures don’t count “discouraged” workers who have stopped looking for jobs and dropped out of the labor force.
The decline of the black middle class
Some see a bitter irony in soaring black unemployment and the decline of the black middle class on the watch of the first black president.
“I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone,” Princeton professor Cornel West told truthdig.com recently.
He said Obama had sold out the poor and become “a black mascot of Wall Street oligarchs and a black puppet of corporate plutocrats … I don’t think in good conscience I could tell anybody to vote for Obama.”
Yet many jobless blacks do not blame their plight on the president.
“I have no problem with Obama when I look at what the alternatives are,” Wilder says.
Goldring doesn’t think Obama is doing a bad job either. “The unemployment situation is not the best, but I don’t think it has a lot to do with him,” she says. “Fixing this economy, it’s going to take time.
Wiley, the Center for Social Inclusion director, says Obama should be applauded for several initiatives that have helped the black middle class, such as programs to modify certain mortgages and prevent foreclosure due to job loss.
She would have liked Obama to aggressively counter the suggestion that first black president would be showing favoritism if he specifically helped black people.
“It’s the right thing to do for the nation,” she says. “Black people are a huge segment of the population, they’re especially hard-hit, and the country cannot recover if the black community — as well as the white community and others — does not recover.”