Black Folks, The Recession, & The Middle Class

Whenever you hear the term Middle Class used in the media, it’s  probably a good idea to know that the term isn’t inclusive of people of color. Reality is: there’s a Middle Class, and well, there’s a “Middle Class” for everybody else. So when you hear the phrase tossed about that the Middle Class is shrinking, just know that for people of color that joker ain’t shrinking – it’s damn near disappeared. Oh you don’t believe me? Maybe you haven’t been paying attention to what’s going on or how “great” people of color are faring these days.

Just take a look at the picture above of the thousands of folks lined up in the southern heat attempting to find employment at the CBC’s job fair in Atlanta. Once upon a time Atlanta was the place to be for upwardly mobile African Americans; but today, not so much now, is it? Plainly speaking: things are bad now, but the long-term unemployment faced by communities of color will have a very negative effect in the near future once this recovery is over.

Think of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The city has never quite been the same nor did it return to pre-Katrina form has it? As a matter of fact, studies show that the event has left many psychologically and mentally scarred, with many of them being children. Surely we all remember Hurricane Katrina; well folks, the current economic turmoil and extended joblessness within communities of color is our collective Hurricane Katrina. And the truth is: like New Orleans, we’ll forever be changed; and, we’ll never be the same again

Read Don Peck’s piece, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America:

he unemployment rate hit 10 percent in October, and there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014, it will have declined only a little. Late last year, the average duration of unemployment surpassed six months, the first time that has happened since 1948, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking that number. As of this writing, for every open job in the U.S., six people are actively looking for work.

All of these figures understate the magnitude of the jobs crisis. The broadest measure of unemployment and underemployment (which includes people who want to work but have stopped actively searching for a job, along with those who want full-time jobs but can find only part-time work) reached 17.4 percent in October, which appears to be the highest figure since the 1930s. And for large swaths of society—young adults, men, minorities—that figure was much higher (among teenagers, for instance, even the narrowest measure of unemployment stood at roughly 27 percent). One recent survey showed that 44 percent of families had experienced a job loss, a reduction in hours, or a pay cut in the past year.

There is unemployment, a brief and relatively routine transitional state that results from the rise and fall of companies in any economy, and there is unemployment—chronic, all-consuming. The former is a necessary lubricant in any engine of economic growth. The latter is a pestilence that slowly eats away at people, families, and, if it spreads widely enough, the fabric of society. Indeed, history suggests that it is perhaps society’s most noxious ill.

The worst effects of pervasive joblessness—on family, politics, society—take time to incubate, and they show themselves only slowly. But ultimately, they leave deep marks that endure long after boom times have returned. Some of these marks are just now becoming visible, and even if the economy magically and fully recovers tomorrow, new ones will continue to appear. The longer our economic slump lasts, the deeper they’ll be.

If it persists much longer, this era of high joblessness will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults—and quite possibly those of the children behind them as well. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar white men—and on white culture. It could change the nature of modern marriage, and also cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a kind of despair and dysfunction not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years. (read more)