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New Report Details Minorities’ Struggles to Bounce Back from Recession

As the nascent economic recovery picks up steam, minorities are still struggling to make gains, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. The report, “The State of Communities of Color in the U.S. Economy,” documents that minorities continue to lag behind Whites in homeownership and economic security while reporting higher rates of unemployment and foreclosures. Representatives from several top advocacy groups held a conference call with reporters this past Friday to discuss the report, and they urged policymakers to take more aggressive measures to aid the most economically depressed communities.

Christian Weller, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report, said that while the recession affected a broad swath of Americans, it  disproportionately affected communities of color.

“The recession came after [minorities] had already experienced a weakening during the last business cycle from 2001 to 2007,” he said. “The recession made a bad situation a lot worse.”

The unemployment rate for African-Americans at the beginning of the recession, in December of 2007, was 8.7 percent. Black unemployment rate is now near 16 percent, according to the report.

Particularly troubling: Nearly 40 percent of young Blacks are unemployed. Asian-American undergraduates are more likely to be unemployed after graduation than their peers. Also worrisome; young people who are unable to enter the labor force fail to develop skills that would enable them to obtain jobs in the future.

Asian-American poverty and employment levels tend to be similar to Whites, giving a misleading impression of economic parity, said Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development.

“Asian sub-populations have vastly different statistics with regard to poverty in the general Asian-American population,” she said.

For example, in California, which has the largest Asian and Cambodian population in the United States, more than 40 percent of Cambodians live in poverty. Asian-Americans are also losing homes at a faster rate than the general population.

For Latinos, the unemployment situation is complicated by many employers’ reluctance to hire permanent workers. 

“There’s nearly 3 million people working in [temporary] employment services,” said Catherine Singley, a senior policy analyst at the Economic and Employment Policy project at the National Council of La Raza. “It’s unsustainable for Latinos to have such a tenuous hold on permanent employment. It’s not the way to build a true recovery.”

Further, the lack of a path to citizenship for undocumented workers creates a “two-tiered, second-class workforce” in which many immigrants take up the lowest-wage jobs to avoid deportation, said Singley.

Weller adds that comprehensive immigration reform will improve industry standards as well as economic security.

“Giving undocumented immigrants a pathway into legal immigration will help to grow jobs in communities of color,” he said.

While participants declined to give one, cure-all solution to minorities’ economic woes, all urged policymakers to focus on more targeted job creation, concentrated in areas with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

“We want to make sure that the policy proposals are effective and targeted in the communities that need them most,” said Singley.

Some hopeful signs have appeared, such as the American Recovery and Investment Act’s establishment of “emergency grants” for on-the-job training in the most economically depressed areas. But policymakers must be more aggressive, said Weller, or they risk “burning out” the few bright spots in a recovery that is already off to a fitful start.

He recommends extending unemployment benefits while focusing on more long-term goals, like improving the quality of jobs, increasing access to employer-based retirement plans and eliminating the predatory lending practices that lead to foreclosure.

“There is some tendency to view the economic security of African-Americans or Latinos or Asian-Americans or Native Americans only in their individual group silos,” said Valerie Rawlston-Wilson, vice president of the Research National Urban League Policy Institute. “One of the great things about this report is that it brings together all of these stories to demonstrate how similar many of the issues are and that, when taken together, things like unemployment, poverty, foreclosure and retirement impact a significantly growing part of the American population. These are problems that we as a nation cannot afford to ignore.”

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