The Crisis of Minority Unemployment

The staggering problem of chronic unemployment among minority men was starkly presented in a report from the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It found that in Los Angeles and New York City about 30 percent of 20- to 24-year-old black men were out of work and out of school in 2014. The situation is even more extreme in Chicago, where nearly half of black men in this age group were neither working nor in school; the rate was 20 percent for Hispanic men and 10 percent for white men in the same age group.

In Chicago, as elsewhere, the crisis of permanent joblessness is concentrated in minority neighborhoods where it feeds street violence, despondency, health problems and a socially corrosive brand of hopelessness among the young. The problem extracts a heavy social cost in those neighborhoods and threatens the viability of entire cities.

The outrage is that there are strategies, which Congress has rejected, that could help rescue a generation of young men from failure and oblivion. Among these is the employment subsidy program that was passed as part of the Recovery Act in 2009. It created more than 260,000 temporary jobs for young people and adults. Governors and employers were ecstatic. But Republicans in Congress denounced the program as useless a year later and blocked proposals that would have extended it.