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‘Race Penalty’: Economic Policy Institute Study Finds Unemployment Among Black College Graduates Is the Same as Whites with a High School Diploma

060514-Naational-Black-Unemployment-Rate-for-MayA new study on the subject of Black vs. white unemployment is not a new story, reflecting what we have known for years– Black unemployment is double that of the white rate, regardless of levels of education.

Call it a “race penalty” for Blacks, which is another way of saying that white supremacy is at work, and never taking any moments of rest in the so-called land of freedom and equality.

The Economic Policy Institute has broken down the cold, hard numbers on the scope of this long-term economic crisis. The data show that typically, regardless of levels of educational attainment, the Black jobless rate is at least double the white rate. So, for people without a high school diploma, the Black unemployment rate is 16.6 percent, while the white rate is 6.9 percent. For Americans with a high school education, the Black unemployment rate of 9.6percent is more than twice the white rate of 4.6 percent. Similarly, for those with some college, the Black unemployment rate (7.4 percent) is roughly double that of whites (4.0 percent).

Moreover, among college graduates, those with at least a bachelor’s degree, Black unemployment is 4.1 percent, while white joblessness is 2.4 percent. The national unemployment rate is listed as 5.3 percent, which of course does not factor the underemployed and those who have given up hope of looking for a job.

What is really worth examining, are the unemployment levels of Blacks with a college degree as opposed to whites who have not earned a degree. The only African-Americans with an unemployment rate low enough to be around the national average are Black college grads. And Blacks with a college degree have the same levels of joblessness as whites who did not complete college, and even those whites who only have a high school diploma. Moreover, the only group of whites whose unemployment levels are greater than the national average are white folks without a high school education. So, what exactly is going on here?

“The broader significance of this disparity suggests a race penalty whereby blacks at each level of education have unemployment rates that are the same as or higher than less educated whites,” according to the report. “Persistent disparities in unemployment are constant reminders of how race continues to have an undue influence on life in this country.”

The notion of a race penalty is important, because it tells the story of the difficulties Black people have faced in this nation for 400 years, and the one problem that America refuses to address and eradicate. This penalty is the badge of slavery, the unreconciled, long-term effects of the kidnapping, bondage, plunder and forced labor of African people on the white psyche. We know the effects of this legacy on Black minds, bodies and certainly spirits. Being told we were inferior, and having that reinforced in every corner of society, certainly has taken its toll on the oppressed. But it is important to articulate the ways in which this troublesome past—and present—twists and corrupts the mindset of white America, resulting in the policies and practices we know today as institutional racism. White supremacy would not have it any other way.

If educational achievement does not affect Black unemployment, then it stands to reason that white supremacy sets up a trap for Black people that can only be overcome through the death of white supremacy. And the so-called “American Dream” mythology that tells everyone they will succeed if they lift themselves up by their bootstraps, work hard, and play by the rules is a deception. Society tells Black people that they are behind because they are lacking, deficient and lazy, and they require a work ethic. Meanwhile, Black excellence never was an issue, and Black achievement and determination never in short supply. After all, how did Black people manage to make it through the genocide of the Middle Passage, and then the plantation police state, and the domestic terrorists in white hoods waving Confederate battle flags?

And yet, some, though not all, of those terrorists have traded their white hoods for business suits, and judicial robes. So, as Black people display their excellence and go to college—despite all the barriers erected against them by white supremacy—individuals such as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia tell Black people they are mismatched, essentially trying to do too much and belonging on a “slower track” or a “less-advanced” level of education.

White supremacy has changed little from the days of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, whose portrait still sits in Harvard Law School, Scalia’s alma mater.  In the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, Taney declared that Blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”

As long as we fail to kill these notions white supremacy, the Black unemployment rate will continue to double the white rate.  And white supremacy will continue to hunt Black people down like the slave patrols.  As we approach Kwanzaa, which includes principles of cooperative economics, collective work and responsibility, self-determination and unity, it is something we must not consider lightly.

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