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Add one more to the list of black and unemployed


So I lost my job a couple weeks ago. Yep. Sure did. Walked into work on a Monday morning, got the call that the boss wants to see me, and that’s when he says to take a seat. After the formal apology that he wishes he didn’t have to do this, the phrase budget cuts comes out, accompanied by the fact that I was an appointee. In other words, money was tight and, well, I was expendable. Sorry about that.

A quick primer on the level of black unemployment in Detroit:

From Brookings, Jan 20, 2011:

Just after the Labor Department announced that the national unemployment rate had fallen from 9.8 percent in November to 9.4 percent in December, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently toldthe Senate Budget Committee that “[i]t could take four to five more years for the job market to normalize fully.”

For the nation as a whole, that seems reasonable. Suppose the labor force grows at the same rate it has over the last decade, an average of 0.07 percent per month. Suppose that the number of employed people (as measured in the Labor Department’s household survey, which is what’s used to figure the unemployment rate) increases by 297,000 every month, as it did in December. Then the nation’s unemployment rate will be just below 4 percent—a rate last achieved in 2000 and one that federal law sets as a target for full employment—in September 2014. Of course, if employment grows more slowly, then it will take longer for the nation to reach full employment.

But what will happen in metropolitan areas with unemployment rates far above the national average? Metropolitan Detroit, for example, had an unemployment rate of 13.5 percent in November (the most recent month for which metro unemployment rates are available). To many people in Detroit, full employment seems like a distant, perhaps unattainable dream. Even if Detroit’s unemployment rate falls as rapidly as the national rate, it will take until at least mid-2016 for its unemployment rate to reach 4 percent.

Surprisingly, though, Detroit’s unemployment rate will probably fall faster than that. The reason is that, faced with continued poor job prospects, many people will leave. That will reduce the size of Detroit’s labor force and lower its unemployment rate, even if job creation remains sluggish. In contrast, relatively few people leave the United States even during the worst economic times, and not very many drop out of the labor force because they can’t find work. (Since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007, the U.S. labor force fell by an average of only 0.008 percent per month.)

And then thre’s this cheerful piece that ran a couple years ago in the Detroit News, reprinted in the Huffington Post:

Officially, Detroit’s unemployment rate is just under 30 percent. But the city’s mayor and local leaders are suggesting a far more disturbing figure — the actual jobless rate, they say, is closer to 50 percent.

As many have noted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which culls federal unemployment data, does not account for all of the jobless in its widely-quotednational unemployment figures. Among those omitted: part-time workers who are looking for full-time jobs and frustrated job seekers who abandon their job search altogether.

(For some context, the official national unemployment rate is 10 percent, but the“underemployment rate”is 17.2 percent.)

Detroit city officials argue that, when workers who are underemployed are added to the calculation, the number of city residents who are out of work is close to one in every two.

The Detroit News reports:

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that for the year that ended in September, Michigan’s official unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. Using the broadest definition of unemployment, the state unemployment rate was 20.9 percent, or 66 percent higher than the official rate. Since Detroit’s official rate for October was 27 percent, that broader rate pushes the city’s rate to as high as 44.8 percent.”

So, naturally, when faced with these rather sobering statistics, I had to sober up a bit myself.

Day 1: Hit me like a bomb. Got out of the cab in the driveway and, as luck and timing would have it, my wife was pulling into the driveway and wondering OMG what just happened. So that was the worst part. Three hours later she cooks me a chocolate cake and we sit at the kitchen table to devour a slice of our favorite dessert accompanied by a wine glass full of milk. My wife has a good sense of humor, which helps. Later that night pretty much all I could was sit in my office and stare at my computer screen while listening to music, feeling numb. My wife cracks the door open to check on me, then quietly walks away to go to bed. I remain staring at the screen.

Day 2: I go to work, which is why this will not be a post of yours truly crying and moaning about what oh what shall I do. First of all, I’ve been here before. Second of all, I’m just another one.  Thirdly, being a black male facing challenging circumstances is pretty much like being a bear in the woods; it’s pretty much the way things are for most bears. So I wake up, shower, get dressed, then start to call everyone I know to let them know I’m casting out the wide net. You hear something? You know about something? You even suspect something may be opening up? Call a brother. Then I check on the health care situation because my boss of course informed me that both salary and benefits are history by the end of this month. Nothing personal, just business. Protocol and what have you. But of course I do now have access to my retirement funds, so I can at least have something with which to pay bills until I set this ship right, because I checked on the unemployment thing and it’s about enough to pay the mortgage and that’s it.

Evening of Day 2: My wife, who operates her own writing business from home, has had a revelation. Why don’t youconsider being self-employed? Doesn’t that sound better – and feel better – than being unemployed? Besides, you haven’t exactly been thrilled to go to work every day. You did your job, and you did it well, but it was never what you wanted, dear. It was always what you had to do to pay bills and that was it. Maybe this is the start of another chapter in life. Maybe this isn’t the end of life as we know it, maybe this is the beginning. At least consider that this may be a more healthy way to look at it.

You know, there’s reason why God made wives. If you’ve got a good one, you deserve to be shot if you let that woman go. And from that point forward to right now as I write this I began to feel lighter, and even somewhat liberated. A bit scared too, but in the kind of way that motivates you to put in 12 -14 hour workdays seven days a week because it’s so much easier to work your ass off when you’re working for a boss you actually respect. Already some doors have started to open, and although it may just be a crack, it’s enough to make me think that just maybe I’m going to come out of this thing all right. Because I have to. Because when the weather changes, you adapt. It’s just what you do.

Who knows what I’ll be feeling like next week, but for now I, like so many others out there, am determined not to let this bring me under.

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