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The federal government and the unemployment crisis

Tap here to turn on desktop notifications to get the news sent straight to you. More than three decades ago, when he was 19, Mathis was hired by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, a government position that seemed to confer assurance of middle class comforts. As an African American, he figured a job with a government agency would be a way around "the good old boy networks" that seemed to preclude his employment at many private businesses.

He reckoned that a government job would spare him from the volatility faced by private companies, meaning his paycheck would continue through good times and bad.

But his vision of a steady career culminating in a farewell cake and a pension came to an abrupt end last August, when his boss summoned him into his office, closed the door and told him that his job was being eliminated. Within minutes, a pair of plain-clothes police led Mathis to another office, where he was forced to surrender his government identification card and city-issued-cell phone.

He grabbed his bag and a picture of his wife before being escorted to the elevator door. Since the beginning of 2008, some 375,000 government jobs have been eliminated, according to the Labor Department. The cuts fall with marked impact on African Americans such as Mathis. Public agencies are the single largest employer for black men, and the second most common for black women.

  1. Back in 1996, for instance, Prof.
  2. Watch the interview here.
  3. The International Labour Organization ILO warns that the global recession will likely increase unemployment by 18-30 million, possibly by over 50 million if the situation continues to deteriorate, which would take the number of unemployed to 230 million or 7.

In May, the unemployment rate among black Americans reached 16. By contrast, white unemployment was eight percent, an improvement from the 8. The loss of government paychecks erodes one of the great equalizing forces at play in the American economy for more than a century.

A government job has long offered a pathway for African Americans to sidestep discrimination that has impeded progress in the private sector, where social networks often determine who has a shot at the best jobs, say experts. The 1987 film Hollywood Shuffle embodies the crucial importance of government work for black families.

In one scene, a struggling black actor is reminded by his grandmother that he can always get work at the post office. Two decades later, the post office began hiring through the civil service exam, creating equal access to jobs and equal pay regardless of race or gender.

And civil service protections allowed postal workers to get involved in controversial issues such as the earliest stages of the Civil Rights Movement without risking their jobs. By 1940, 14 percent of the black middle class worked for the postal service, according to Rubio. In the decades since, other government departments, from housing to public works to sanitation, became major employers.

But now, with the broader economy stuck in a deep rut and working opportunities chronically lean, those government jobs are diminishing, too.

A sprawling metropolis defined by big oil, big malls and big freeways, the Texas city seemed impervious to the forces of decline that have beset so much of the country in recent years. Also the health care industry just kept growing. But like every major American metropolitan area, Houston suffered the end of the speculative frenzy in real estate. With so many houses empty and real estate transactions stagnant, the city saw its revenues decline as development fees fell off, along with sales and property taxes.

By March it became clear. Mathis was among 60 city government workers who lost their jobs in the course of department consolidations during 2010.

A similar fate now confronts 750 additional municipal employees who will be laid off on July 1. Most major American cities have been eliminating government jobs.

Local governments have shed 446,000 employees since employment in the sector hit its peak in September 2008. They plan to cut nearly 500,000 more over the next two years, according to a national survey of governments.

The impact of those cuts seems certain to fall disproportionately on African Americans, exacerbating already extreme rates of joblessness. It's no coincidence, some black union activists say. Many think the preponderance of African Americans in the government workforce makes them a useful target for some politicians —- particularly Republicans, cognizant that the black vote trends overwhelmingly Democratic.

No End To Unemployment Crisis

If you have a lot of people who are frustrated, maybe it is going to be very hard to get your base out to vote. More than a quarter-century later, in 2009, Marshall worked in the very same office as her social worker.

Her two children had nearly completed college. The cash-strapped county would first offer buyouts. Marshall absorbed this news and realized that she might wind up on the layoff list.

  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances;
  • By March it became clear;
  • Local governments have shed 446,000 employees since employment in the sector hit its peak in September 2008;
  • The unintended result is a deepening of the downward spiral of current production cuts and layoffs, further depressing demand.

I realized I had accomplished what I set out to do —- put my babies through school. The next day, Marshall suffered what she refers to as her first panic attack. This is Wayne County.

Black Unemployment Crisis: Loss Of Government Jobs Hurts African Americans Hardest

She works for a private social service agency, a federal government contractor, operating a prisoner reentry program. She loves her work, she says, calling it, "The job I was born to do. For Marshall, the lost income means that she may not be able to hold on to her home.

She is already underwater and the payments are difficult to make. But Marshall said she is at peace with whatever comes next. And she is thankful to have once worked for Wayne County. He feels the burden of financial responsibility, a house to maintain and two cars. He resumed studies toward an MBA, graduating in January. Since then, he has applied for all sorts of jobs: The job is set to end July 31 but could be extended, Mathis has been told.

Neither job comes with any benefits, a major loss for a 55-year-old man. In February, Mathis also started up a trio of online retail businesses, selling essential oils and gifts over the Internet. Mathis says they are moving along "slowly. That puts Mathis in at the edge of a new trend.

Depending on your perspective, he's a man who has lost the safety net of a public sector job and now scrambling to replace the income, or a reluctant yet eager fledgling member of the business world.