Jobs are booming in the New York City economic recovery, but not the ones black men have traditionally held.
In fiscal year 2012, blacks comprised 22% of the total New York City population but accounted for 32% of government employees. Other ethnicities were either proportionally represented or underrepresented in the government sector, one of a handful of public sectors that has not regained its pre-recession job numbers peak. There were slightly less than 548,000 government employees in New York City as of August 2015, approximately 3% less than the 564,000 government employees in New York City in 2008.
“That sector typically has been one that’s provided some measure of employment opportunities for black men,” says James Parrott, Deputy Director and Chief Economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research and education organization focused on improving economic and social conditions for New Yorkers.
In addition to the government sector, the manufacturing and transportation industries have also traditionally employed proportionally large numbers of black males. While the transportation sector has remained fairly constant since the recession, the manufacturing sector has experienced a significant decline in jobs. In 2015, there were 74,300 manufacturing jobs in the city, a sharp drop from the city’s more than 95,000 manufacturing jobs in 2008.
The problem for New York City’s black males becomes apparent when examining the employment to population ratio. Rather than benefiting from New York City’s job growth, black males seem to have taken a step backward. The employment to population ratio for black males dropped by almost 2 percentage points to 56.8% in the first half of 2015, from 58.6% in the first half of 2008. Meanwhile the employment to population ratio for the city’s overall population has improved during the same time period. In the first half of 2015, the citywide employment to population ratio was 58.3%, up from 56.4% in the first half of 2008.
Unlike the unemployment rate, the employment to population ratio includes discouraged workers-individuals who are unemployed and have stopped looking for work. This suggests that a greater number of black men today are either actively in the labor force and unemployed or have stopped looking for employment altogether. Parrot notes that the employment to population ratio for black males has likely not mirrored the city’s overall improvement because of the decline in government jobs as well as “the weakness in blue-collar growth.”
John Jay College Assistant Professor Michelle Holder, a labor economist, also notes that the majority of jobs gained during the recovery have been in low-wage industries, such as food service, where black males are not typically proportionally represented.
One public sector that has traditionally employed a large number of blacks and that has has experienced robust job growth during the recovery is the health care industry. However, this industry also employs a significantly higher number of females than males, suggesting that black males have not benefited greatly from the job expansion in that area.
Holder stresses that the unemployment and underemployment of black males has far-reaching repercussions that affect the community at large. “Wages have been stagnant across the board for all households, but particularly so for black households,” says Holder. “During the recession, black men were pushed out of high-wage jobs and mid-wage jobs so the effect and the impact has everything to do with household wealth, household income, and poverty.”
Bertha Lewis, president of the Black Institute, an organization focused on shaping public policy from a black perspective, agrees that the ramifications of black male unemployment extends beyond just black males themselves. “When you have 11, 12, 15% unemployment of black men, my God. That has a ripple effect through that family, through that community, through that city, through that state, through our country,” says Lewis.
Lewis believes a Marshall Plan may be needed to assist with the recovery. “With the vicious cycle of mass incarceration, no manufacturing jobs, a huge reduction in public sector jobs…you have got the unholy trinity,” says Lewis. “It’s like having three viruses at once.”