Unemployment high among black New Yorkers

Jul 24, 2009

Source: Business Week – New York

Black New Yorkers have been hit particularly hard by the economic downturn, according to a new report that says their unemployment rate has swelled disproportionately during the recession.

The report released Monday by City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., a Democrat running for mayor, says the black unemployment rate in New York City was 14.7 percent for the first quarter of 2009. For the same period in 2008, it was 5.7 percent.

Nationally for that same period, the unemployment rate among blacks was slightly lower than the city’s rate, at 13.1 percent. But it rose in the second quarter to 14.9 percent, according to Bureau of Labor statistics.

Unemployment across all ethnic groups in New York City has gone up as the local economic picture worsened; the city’s overall rate for the first quarter of 2008 was 4.9 percent, growing to 8.1 percent for that period in 2009.

The comptroller’s chief economist, Frank Braconi, said it wasn’t entirely clear why the black unemployment rate rose so much more.

One theory is that the retail sector has suffered substantially during the recession and that a high number of retail jobs are often held by black and Hispanic workers. The Hispanic rate went from 6.4 to 9.3 percent.

Another is that even though blacks are underrepresented on Wall Street, which has seen huge job losses since the meltdown last year, they also lost those jobs disproportionately.

“In all truth, we don’t have all the answers to this pattern,” Braconi said.

The report, released Monday, was an update on the city’s overall economic health.

At a news conference, Thompson used it to wage a campaign attack on Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire serving the fourth year of his second term. Thompson is the leading Democrat in the race to challenge Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent.

“He’s out of touch with what’s going on in our city,” Thompson said, “because he continues to offer proposals that put the rich first and families last.”

Thompson said Bloomberg has contributed to the city’s fiscal problems with policies that hurt the middle class, like raising the sales tax. However, the sales tax hike was only recently adopted and has not yet gone into effect.

When asked to list other failures of the mayor that might have worsened the city’s unemployment rate, Thompson did not have specifics but said the city has not done enough to help small businesses and relies too much on Wall Street as an economic engine.

At the mayor’s regular news briefing Monday, Bloomberg said, “We can sit here and analyze, and you’re never going to really know” the cause of the disparity.

He said the city must focus on solutions, and noted that his administration’s career centers have helped place 10,500 New Yorkers in jobs so far in 2009. A spokesman said 47 percent of those workers are black.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking at a separate City Hall news conference, said that “there’s a lot of blame to go around” but that it’s more productive to look forward.

“What I want to know is what will be the collective response. … People are suffering.”