While delivering mail on Chicago’s North Side, Lakesha Dortch-Hardy spoke about how much she loves her job at the U.S. Postal Service, and how much it would hurt if jobs such as hers were to disappear.
“There would be no middle class without these jobs — it would either be rich or poor,” said Dortch-Hardy, a tall, energetic 38-year-old, who took long strides as she wheeled her cart along a row of two- and three-story brick apartment houses.
The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service has eliminated 168,000 jobs since 2006, and more cuts could result as it struggles to avoid its own “fiscal cliff.” As the United States honors Martin Luther King’s civil rights legacy on Monday, many African-American workers may be facing new obstacles to achieving and maintaining a middle-class lifestyle.
African-Americans represent 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and 11.6 percent of the labor force, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report. Nearly one in five African-American workers hold government jobs such as mail clerks, firefighters and teachers, the report said.
“There’s a long tradition of the public sector being more friendly, or less hostile, to African-American workers,” said Robert Zieger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “The post office is the best example.”
African-Americans make up about 20 percent of U.S. Postal Service workers — and are the majority in some urban centers, representing 75 percent to 80 percent of the 5,000 letter carriers in the Chicago area, according to Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
But the public sector has cut nearly 600,000 jobs since 2009, due to shrinking government budgets and a range of other issues, according to the Bureau of Labor Relations. The slower recovery for African-Americans in the labor market has, in part, been the result of government layoffs after the end of the recession was declared, according to the DOL report. In December, the black unemployment rate was 14 percent, roughly double that of whites.
While some other sectors of the economy are seeing recovery, the biggest problems may be just beginning for the post office, the nation’s second-largest civilian employer after Walmart with about 536,000 career workers…
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