Black Men Left Behind by High-Tech Economy, Report Warns

Robert L. Smith, Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 28, 2008 20:04PM

As the region and the state strive to prepare workers to compete in the new economy, a local research group warns that huge numbers of people are likely to be left behind.

Tens of thousands of black men are not only unemployed but nearly unemployable in a knowledge-based economy, so investments in higher education and in high-skills job training will not reach them, PolicyBridge argues in a study to be released Tuesday.

“The Job Prescription: Examining Pervasive Joblessness Among African-American Men” argues that creative strategies are needed to re-introduce the working life to jobless black adults, some of whom have given up on ever finding steady work.

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The report, written by McShepard and Mark Batson, PolicyBridge’s executive director, along with researcher Fran Stewart, warns of a “full blown economic emergency” left largely untreated.

It’s well known that the black unemployment rate well exceeds the white unemployment rate here and nationally, but even that alarming number reflects only people actively looking for work, the authors point out.

For a clearer look at the workforce, the authors combined the numbers of unemployed with the numbers of jobless black adults reported to the U.S. Census Bureau.

By their reckoning, 38 percent of black men ages 25 to 54 in Cleveland are not in the labor force. Regionwide, 31 percent of black men of prime working age are not working.

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Often, a work ethic is lost in communities afflicted with long-term joblessness, making its residents even less attractive to employers.

The report call for focused attention to the problem and suggests a couple of helping strategies.

Investments aimed at increasing the numbers of college graduates and high-tech workers, while important, will not lift the urban black underclass anytime soon, the report argues.

PolicyBridge calls for more basic adult job training and job matching. It suggests alternatives to jail for drug offenders, like “skills training camps,” and more programs aimed at helping high school drop outs earn degrees.

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[Editor’s Note: “The Job Prescription: Examining Pervasive Joblessness Among African-American Men” can be read or downloaded here.]

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