While the recession hit black men harder than any other group, the economic recovery has shifted that impact to their female counterparts, according to a recent report by the National Women’s Law Center, which shows that black women have lately seen their unemployment rate rise even as other populations—including black men—have finally begun to regain jobs.
Between June 2009 and June 2011, black men gained 127,000 jobs while black women lost more than twice that number, 258,000, the report says. That means that black women have now lost more total jobs than have black men since the recession began in December 2007.
“We hear back from women suggesting that some employers think it’s more important for men to get back to work than for women,” said Joan Entmacher, the National Women’s Law Center’s vice president for family economic security, citing anecdotes from women she has interviewed. “I suspect that is one of the things at work.”
But on the contrary, the report suggests that women are more critical to the economic health of the black population.
“Black women are a majority [53.4 percent] of the black workforce, head a majority [52.8 percent] of black families with children, and were more economically vulnerable even before the recession started,” according to the report.
When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg earlier this month introduced his Young Men’s Initiative program—which will spend $127.5 million to improve education, job placement, health and criminal justice outcomes for young black and Hispanic men—many cheered the effort. But some advocates lament the failure to address women’s economic struggles.
“It’s really important that we pay attention to what’s going on with black men and black male teens and the barriers they face for employment,” said Kate Gallagher Robbins, an analyst at the National Women’s Law Center. “But it’s also critical that we focus on what’s happening for black women and black teen girls.”
In fact, women of all races are suffering disproportionately during the weak recovery, as public-sector jobs shrink under the chokehold of tightened budgets. Women hold a high percentage of those jobs, largely because local governments were the first places to implement fair employment practices, said Jeff Hayes, senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“That’s the first place they found good jobs and careers, because there were routinized rules for hiring,” Hayes said.
With debt deal cuts on the horizon that will further limit public-sector spending, black women and teens aren’t likely to see relief soon.
“Certainly the cuts that have been happening in the government and the public sector are not helpful to these women,” said Gallagher Robbins. Instead, budget plans should focus on job creation, she said, for example through investments in infrastructure and tax credits for businesses who hire new employees.
“With no assistance to state and local governments, and no talk of any stimulus, it’s looking pretty gloomy—especially for black women,” Hayes said.