Why This Financial Crisis Is Particularly Cruel to Blacks

Financial Crisis Downturns never hit equally. The chase for that job you've dreamed about since youth can have a way of turning into a quest for the spot that's most "recession-proof." Traditionally, a position with the government has always been seen as an investment in security, if not in stock options. But among the most defining aspects of this ongoing financial crisis is the gutting of state budgets and services in the face of record shortfalls.

Labor disputes between the governor's mansion and state employees have gained wide attention from particularly heated showdowns like the one over collective bargaining in Wisconsin. But the trend has gone national; at least 30 states have ordered across-the-board budget cuts. And state and local governments cut 30,000 jobs in May, the seventh consecutive month of such trimming.

The continued pullback in state government has stood in contrast with other sectors that have begun showing fits of good news. One such industry is health care, which according to a new report put out by PricewaterhouseCoopers, is on the verge of a new "gold rush" for jobs.

In view of a new Labor Department report, "The Black Labor Force in the Recovery," such a climate could make the nation's African Americans particularly vulnerable. In 2010, roughly half the nation's blacks over 16 years of age, or 15 million people, were gainfully employed. And among those employed, one in five worked in government, roughly double the percentage of Hispanics in government. (About one in seven whites work in government.)

"The public [sector] has been safer for blacks because of the safeguards against discrimination," says Marianne Bertrand, an economics professor at the University of Chicago and author of the 2004 study, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?"

"With that sector restructuring, it will expose more blacks," she says.

According to a recent Associated Press report, there's no expectation of any letup in government cutbacks. Mark Vitner, an economist with Wells Fargo Securities, told the news agency that the pace of shedding should be expected to remain at 20,000 to 30,000 through 2012. And this past May, while the private sector disappointed by only adding 54,000 jobs, it was nevertheless an increase in employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was not true for the public sphere.

Such numbers will surely hit blacks harder than anyone else.

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