While the country’s overall unemployment rate sits at 8.8 percent, the rate among white Americans is at 7.9 percent. Yet, for a host of reasons ranging from disparate levels of education to outright discrimination, national joblessness is nearly double for African Americans—even during a tepid, but true, economic recovery.
As The Huffington Post points out, joblessness has remained so critically elevated in the decade leading up to the Great Recession, that African Americans like Charlotte, North Carolina’s own Wanda Nolan witnessed a bright future quickly dimmed by an unrelenting economic downturn:
“From an entry-level job as a fill-in bank teller, she forged a career as a commercial banking assistant, earning enough to become a homeowner. She finished college and then got an MBA. Even after the recession unfolded in late 2007, her degrees and her familiarity with the business world lent her a sense of immunity to the forces ravaging much of the American economy. Nolan was an exemplar of the African American middle class and the increasingly professional ranks of the so-called New South.
But in September 2008, everything changed.
A bank human resources officer called her into a private conference room. “All I heard was, ‘Your position has been eliminated,’” says Nolan, 37, who, despite being one of the more than 13 million officially unemployed Americans, still spends most days in her self-styled banker’s uniform of pearls and pants and practical flats. “My mind started racing.”
More than two years later, Nolan is still looking for a job and feeling increasingly anxious about a future that once felt assured. Her life has devolved from a model of middle class African American upward mobility into an example of a disturbing trend: She is among the 15.5 percent of African Americans out of work and still looking for a job.”
Unfortunately, this staggering unemployment level for African-American workers makes Wanda Nola’s southern story far from unusual. From Detroit, Michigan to Durham, North Carolina, and everywhere in between, there are millions of people just like Nolan who got a degree, worked hard, moved up in their careers, only to be slapped down by economic circumstances that were unforeseeable to most in the now-disappearing middle-class. With every application filled in and resume sent it out, there’s the stark reality that the longer they remain out of the workforce, the less likely they’ll be allowed back in; as well as the understanding that more and more the new American alternative to unemployment is underemployment, with less job security and lower salaries.
According to HuffPost, “Trading down has become a painful truth for much of working America, but this truth becomes particularly stark when seen through the prism of race. Only 12 percent of all Americans are black, but working-age black Americans comprise nearly 21 percent of the nation’s unemployed, according to federal data. The growing contrast between prospects for white and black job-seekers challenges a cherished American notion: the availability of opportunity and upward mobility for all.”
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