It’s hard to improve on “disturbing” and “unjust,” but those are just a few of the descriptions of the economic cost to the city of New Orleans of unemployment among black men.
A report released last year by a Loyola University think tank found more than half of working-age black men were unemployed, according to Census data, in 2011.
That study, by the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy, rightly set off alarms — but as the study noted, there has been a staggering decline in economic opportunity for black New Orleanians over three decades.
It’s not a problem that is going to be dealt with soon, but we commend some of the city’s leading employers and Mayor Mitch Landrieu for working toward progress.
The mayor said New Orleans, like the state and federal governments, has done a poor job in providing a full-service conduit linking those in search of jobs to those with jobs to offer. The administration launched a new initiative, the Economic Opportunity Strategy, to fill that gap.
In 1980, according to the Boggs Center study, 63 percent of working-age black men had jobs, 7 percent were unemployed and 30 percent had dropped out of the workforce. The latter category includes those who are in prison or who have stopped looking for work. By 2011, the combined categories of black men who were unemployed or out of the labor force had jumped to 52 percent.
“It reflects a failure of ours to be able to connect our citizens to work,” Landrieu said. “That is not an acceptable number for a lot of different reasons. First of all, it’s unjust. Secondly, it doesn’t do anything but actually pull the entire economy of the city down. And thirdly, it doesn’t give people a pathway to build generational wealth.”
We agree with the mayor, and he has pulled together a number of “anchor institutions,” major employers who want to be a part of a solution. Yet the problems of the long-term jobless are manifold.
Without an adequate education, or with a criminal background, the barriers to getting a job are high and the responses — even with the best will on the part of employers and the government — cannot always address the personal problems of those without skills, who are usually without work.
In the city, a significant number of black men are working but not on the books, selling drugs or guns. That’s not a market the city wants to encourage.
The state government has responded to some of the employment challenges, creating new websites that publicize openings and, in the Department of Corrections, applying limited funds to make soon-to-be-released men readier for work. The city can only benefit from growing employment in industrial construction in the Mississippi River petrochemical sector between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Yet as Landrieu noted, with 38,000 people in a targeted group for the new initiative, that’s a lot of households that could be part of a brighter future in the city. It’s a big enough potential upside to justify new efforts to grow their prospects.