Unemployment is a daily news headline and will undoubtedly be at the forefront of the 2012 presidential debates. As of June 2011, the U.S. sits just above 9 percent unemployment. This is much better than 2009 rates that cleared 10 percent but far from the more laudable 4-5 percent range we saw at the turn of the millennium. We experienced several consecutive months of rate decrease until March of last year when we bottomed out at 8.9 percent and began the upward trend yet again. As we attempt to dissect the unemployment rate, we begin to notice some significant racial discrepancies.  While Whites and Asians experienced a year over year reduction in the rate of unemployment, African Americans saw almost an entire percentage point of increase. Why are the numbers for African Americans going so far in the opposite direction? Why do the numbers not correlate with the other races?

Some activists would argue that affirmative action has lost its fervor and should be reignited in the jobs discussion.  Others consider affirmative action as reverse racism, giving jobs to minorities who in some cases may not be as qualified as a White individual. Affirmative action was initiated by President John F. Kennedy when he stated the nation should “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Public opinion tends to shift regularly on this issue. Since President Kennedy’s original declaration, the nation has vastly progressed in the arena of racism and equal opportunities, so the need for this type of requirement is continually being questioned.

Truth is, whether you agree wholeheartedly with the initiative of Affirmative Action or you consider this type of mandate overkill in the increasingly liberal 21st century, the policy is basically in place to ensure that the pool of candidates employers pull from is representative of all races. Progressive, forward-thinking companies take great concern in having a diversified group of people in the company and not simply to appease governmental authorities. It has been proven that diversity is key to success in today’s constantly changing business environment. A diverse workforce provides a greater variety of perspectives and solutions to problems. It also allows for a broader service span, because a company can now reach out across different languages and cultural understandings based on the diversity of their employees. A person’s thought processes are derived from his/her background and life experiences. If a company employed an entire workforce of people that looked the same from similar backgrounds, it would be a dysfunctional business model and a recipe for disaster.  Looking into the future, diversity will likely play an even larger role in the successes and failures of big business. And now that domestic markets have become overly saturated, major players are looking abroad (or in some cases, already established themselves overseas) at underdeveloped countries for more targeted growth strategies. The only way these companies will be able to successfully penetrate these markets will be to hire people who understand how these markets work, speak the language, and fully grasp the social norms of that region.

We see that companies are not concerned as much about race as they are about what you have to offer as a person (which in some cases diversity can give you an edge). So when we look at the unemployment situation for African Americans in the U.S., we have to look at the cause of the problem and not the effect. The cause is the widening racial gap “as students move up the degree ladder. White students starting at two-year institutions have about the same likelihood as black students of earning a certificate, are 60 percent more likely to earn an associates degree, and are more than twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.” The effect is the suffering of blacks in America as the unemployment rate for this particular race is continually increasing without any clear signs of tapering off.
Photo courtesy of: Kabobfest 

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