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The season for blueberries used to be short. You'd find fresh berries in the store just during a couple of months in the middle of summer.

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For Black Americans, A Longer Time Without Work

Dec 23, 2011
Originally published on December 23, 2011 11:32 am

Although the U.S. gained more than 120,000 jobs last month, the numbers of long-term unemployed barely shifted, and unemployment rates for African-Americans continued to go through the roof.

A recent NPR and Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that although the long-term unemployed face many of the same difficulties regardless of race, there are distinct differences between blacks and whites struggling to find work.

Out-of-work blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians all took part in the NPR-Kaiser survey. Only blacks and whites had a large enough sample, however, for the surveyors to specifically break out their responses.

"First of all, we found that among those people who have been unemployed for a long time, African-Americans make up a greater share of that population than they do of full-time workers," says Kaiser Family Foundation researcher Liz Hamel.

Blacks make up about 10 percent of the full-time working population but 27 percent of the long-term unemployed — that is, those who haven't had a full-time job for a year or more. And unlike whites, blacks are more likely to be without a job at all.

Willa Booker, 53, lives in a two-bedroom bungalow on Chicago's West Side. A former hospital administrator with 20 years of experience, Booker has been unemployed for two-and-a-half years. She has two adult children and an 11-year-old daughter; there won't be any gifts under the Christmas tree this year, she says.

"My daughter needs school clothes. My home is about to be taken from me. They just tried to repo my vehicle two weeks ago. [The] only thing I've always asked for is someone to give me a chance, and I could prove myself," Booker says.

Booker is taking online classes to get a master's degree. She had earned $50,000 a year and now lives on $300 a month in public assistance. She's no longer eligible for unemployment.

The survey shows blacks are less likely, and whites are more likely, to blame President Obama and Democrats for the country's unemployment situation. However, both blacks and whites are more likely to blame Wall Street financial institutions and, like Booker, Republicans in Congress.

"Congress — they don't help nobody," she says. "If my 99 weeks are up in unemployment, and they look at my record, you'll see I was a working person. I'm worthy."

Economists say the African-American unemployment rate is so high — 15.5 percent at last count — for a number of reasons, including less education for blacks, job discrimination and huge job slashes in the public sector, where many African-Americans are employed.

Roderick Harrison, a senior research scientist at Howard University, says another significant factor in the slower hiring of blacks is that they are generally less well connected.

"Your resume goes in, but there's nobody there to say, 'I know this person [who has] applied; take a look,' " he says.

Outside of young people, black men have it the worst among the unemployed. November's labor department stats put their jobless rate at 16.5 percent

Jonathan Gandy, 30, has been unemployed for about a year and six months. He was laid off from a full-time job as a project coordinator at an insurance company.

"Currently, I'm in the market for project coordination gigs," Gandy says. "I've applied and I get a lot of responses. Lots of headhunters call me."

But Gandy says so far he's had no success, and he's worried that the longer he's off the job market, he'll be less competitive against those with no break in their employment history.

In lieu of a full-time job, Gandy and a friend have formed their own production company, doing photo shoots and videotaping weddings. He says he is barely making ends meet. The NPR/Kaiser poll found that African-Americans, like Gandy, are more likely than whites to say they'll be able to find a job with the pay and benefits they need.

"I'm still optimistic, honestly. I still see opportunities and I still get calls," he says.

More than half of blacks and a third of whites felt the same way. It's an optimism that may be hard to hold on to, black or white, in a grim economy that has kept so many unemployed for so long.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The U.S. gained more than 120,000 jobs last month, but the numbers of the long-term unemployed barely shifted. And unemployment rates for African-Americans continued to go through the roof. A recent NPR and Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that although the long-term unemployed face many of the same difficulties regardless of race, there are still distinct differences between blacks and whites struggling to find work.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Out-of- work blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians all took part in the NPR-Kaiser survey. There was only a large enough sample of blacks and whites though to specifically break out their responses.

LIZ HAMEL: Well, first of all, we found that among those people who have been unemployed for a long time, African-Americans make up a greater share of that population than they do of full-time workers.

CORLEY: Kaiser researcher Liz Hamel says blacks make up about 10 percent of the full-time working population, but 27 percent of the long-term unemployed - those who haven't had a full-time job for a year or more. And unlike whites, blacks are more likely to be without a job at all.

WILLA BOOKER: OK, well, here is my living room. And...

CORLEY: Willa Booker lives in a two bedroom bungalow on Chicago's west side. A small wall clock ticks in the living room. She says there won't be any gifts under the Christmas tree. Booker, who is 53, is the mother of two adult children and an 11-year-old daughter. A former hospital administrator with 20 years experience, Booker has been unemployed for two and a half years.

BOOKER: My daughter need school clothes. My home is about to be taken from me. They just tried to repo my vehicle two weeks ago. The only thing I've always asked is for someone to give me a chance and I can prove myself.

CORLEY: Booker is taking online classes to get a master's degree. She earned $50,000 a year and now lives on $300 a month in public assistance. She's no longer eligible for unemployment.

The survey shows blacks are less likely and whites more likely to blame President Obama and Democrats for the country's unemployment situation. However, both blacks and whites are more likely to blame Wall Street financial institutions and like Booker, Republicans in Congress.

BOOKER: Congress. They don't help nobody. You know, if my 99 weeks are up in unemployment, and they look at my record, you'll see I was a working person. I'm worthy.

CORLEY: Economists says the African-American unemployment rate is so high - at last count 15.5 percent - for a number of reasons, including less education for blacks, job discrimination and huge slashes in public sector jobs, where many African-Americans are employed. Roderick Harrison, a senior research scientist at Howard University, says another significant factor in the slower hiring of blacks is that they are generally less well-connected.

RODERICK HARRISON: Your resume goes in but there's nobody there to say I know this person who they've applied, take a look.

CORLEY: Outside of young people, black men have it the worst among the unemployed. November's labor department stats put their jobless rate at 16.5 percent.

JONATHAN GANDY: I'm Jonathan Gandy. I'm 30 years old and I've been unemployed for about a year and six months.

CORLEY: Gandy was laid off from a full-time job as a project coordinator at an insurance company.

GANDY: Currently, I'm in the market for project coordination gigs. I've applied and I get a lot of responses. Lots of headhunters call me.

CORLEY: But Gandy says no far, no success, and he's worried that the longer he's out of the job market, he'll be less competitive against those with no break in their employment history.

(SOUNDBITE OF ZIPPER)

GANDY: OK. So this is a tripod case, but the...

CORLEY: In lieu of a full-time job, Gandy and a friend have formed their own production company, doing photo shoots and video-taping weddings. He says he's barely making ends meet.

The NPR-Kaiser survey found that African-Americans like Gandy are more likely than whites to say they'll be able to find a job with the pay and benefits they need.

GANDY: I'm still optimistic, honestly. I still see opportunities and I still get calls.

CORLEY: It's an optimism that may be hard to hold on to, black or white, in a grim economy that's kept so many unemployed for so long.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.