Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Unemployment Still Sky High

Feb 09, 2010

Picture a small child, no more than 10 years old, who is forced to leave school, say goodbye to his/her friends and abandon the only home they ever knew. Imagine this young boy or girl milling through piles of garbage for scraps of our leftovers, and then illegally working an odd job to bring in a few dollars for the family. Can you fathom a world where these precious children lose every opportunity for a sustainable future and an equal footing with the rest of us? Sleeping in tents, in cardboard boxes, in overcrowded shelters – if they are lucky – and simply on the streets in many cases, these homeless little ones are often losing the battle for existence even before their lives have truly begun. And despite common perception, this scenario I’m describing isn’t confined to a third world country or a nation off in some distant land, but rather it’s taking place right in our own backyard. Everyday, millions of our young go to bed hungry in the United States, and in this time of dire economic circumstances, those numbers continue to climb at alarming rates.

Last Friday, news outlets emphatically pronounced a drop in the U.S. unemployment numbers to 9.5%, down from last month’s 10%. Everyone celebrated in the brief moment of relief that perhaps our dwindling economy may begin to in fact recover and that Americans could once again find security in their own financial futures. But in the glory of amusement over this news, the larger, more disturbing reality was masked right before us. Despite a drop in overall unemployment numbers, the percentage of Blacks and Latinos currently unemployed remains alarmingly high, and in many cities and towns across the country is more than twice the national average. Unemployment for African Americans is in fact projected to reach a 25 year high this year, with the national rate exceeding 20% in five states. When you have a bustling metropolis like New York City with 50% of Black males looking for work, we must ask ourselves what we are doing to immediately salvage our own existence.

In the banter of our economic recovery, we are often misguided into believing that human suffering in one of the wealthiest nations is no longer taking place. Although the overall percentage of unemployment numbers dropped, long term unemployment hit a new record with 40% of the nation’s unemployed out of work for more than six months. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 2010 also began with fewer jobs in the U.S. labor market than a decade ago, despite an 11 million person gain in our labor force. And it’s like a destructive cycle – with a loss of employment, comes a loss of livelihood, necessities, education, a secure home and eventually a loss of equal opportunity. And this vicious trend almost always strikes children the most, for they are the most vulnerable when stability and security is eradicated.

In 2008, about 14.1 million U.S. children, or 19%, were considered poor. In communities of color, those percentages skyrocketed just as unemployment and foreclosure rates also skyrocketed in Black and Latino families. Even in 2007, Latino children under 18 living in poverty was at a whopping 30.6% and at 33.9% for Black children in the same category, according to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. With continued job losses, a lack of job growth, increased home foreclosures, a depletion of governmental resources/programs and an overall sense of hopelessness and despair, these astronomical numbers will unfortunately rise in this, the most powerful nation on earth.

People of color have historically suffered a lack of financial prosperity due to generations of unequal access to education, housing discrimination and countless mechanisms of institutional racism. As we begin to rise out of our mental enslavement and attain previously unimaginable feats like the highest office in the land, we cannot forget that we are nowhere near on equal footing. Blacks and Latinos often suffered immense economic hardship in times of national prosperity, so we can only begin to grasp how those hardships have exponentially multiplied. Though we can continue to celebrate our many advances and continue to hold steadfast in everyone’s belief that we will recover from these tough times, we must not forget the long-term challenges we face as a community. Whenever we collectively progress, we must remember those who are silently suffering right before our eyes. And we must not be fooled by numbers and percentages of affluence, for no matter how great our nation is, there will always be a child going to bed hungry somewhere in a city or town near you.