Such a sentiment has echoed throughout the nation, as the red ink left in the wake of the Great Recession prompts federal, state and local government agencies to pare down payrolls and eliminate positions that have sustained middle class dreams for decades. Since the beginning of 2008, some 375,000 government jobs have been eliminated, according to the Labor Department.
The cuts fall with marked impact on African Americans such as Mathis. Nearly 21 percent of the nation’s working black adults hold government jobs, as compared to some 17 percent of white workers and 15 percent of Latinos. Public agencies are the single largest employer for black men, and the second most common for black women.
The disproportionate vulnerability of African American employees to the impacts of government budget cuts helps explain why black workers have fared so much worse than other slices of the population since the recession’s end. In May, the unemployment rate among black Americans reached 16.2 percent, up from 15.5 percent a year earlier. By contrast, white unemployment was eight percent, an improvement from the 8.8 percent level of a year earlier.
The loss of government paychecks erodes one of the great equalizing forces at play in the American economy for more than a century. A government job has long offered a pathway for African Americans to sidestep discrimination that has impeded progress in the private sector, where social networks often determine who has a shot at the best jobs, say experts.