Race and recession

Filed under: Featured,Transforming Race Conference |

By Dominique Apollon, Research Director, Applied Research Center

The Great Recession has led to lasting unemployment for many, the greatest number since the last downturn in the 1980s.  Those hardest hit include people of color and single women and mothers who have been troubled by an utter lack of economic opportunity, while the social safety net, shredded by welfare reform in 1996, catches fewer families.  Economic conditions have exacerbated already precarious positions, making even low-wage, hourly work in the service economy hard to obtain.

  • Poverty, unemployment, and underemployment rates are skyrocketing for people of color and women.  While unemployment numbers for January were 9.7% for the general population, black and Latino unemployment stood at 16.5% and 12.6%, respectively, white unemployment at 8.7%. For women-headed households, it’s 12.3%.
  • Seth Wessler, my colleague at ColorLines.com, recently reported that in Hartford, CT–-where strict time limits on cash assistance have jettisoned scores of women off welfare rolls at the worst time possible–mothers have resorted to selling some of their food stamp benefits to purchase other necessities.

And now a year into the distribution of federal stimulus funds, conditions are not improving for those who have been most impacted by the recession.

For example, by some estimates, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included up to $200 billion dollars of spending or tax credits toward the green economy that has been touted by advocates, politicians and others as a 21st century “pathway out of poverty”. Yet, while targeted spending could indeed prove promising and transformative, federal support of job training programs alone just won’t cut it in communities of color. Job creation spending in the stimulus package has been modest and lacks explicit attention to racial and gender equity.

Take the recently announced clean energy tax credits as a case in point. Manufacturing firms in the energy sector (where white males make up 80% of all employees) requested approximately $3 billion dollars in tax credits. The Obama Administration approved these credits ostensibly to create jobs both immediately and into the future. But, jobs for whom?

  • Xunlight Corporation in Toledo, OH will collect a $34 million tax credit to manufacture thin-film photovoltaic modules for solar glass.
  • Nordex USA Inc in Jonesboro, AR received a $22 million tax credit to construct advanced wind turbine parts.
  • Merrill Technologies Group in Saginaw, MI was granted a $22 million tax credit to assemble towers for wind turbines.

What else do all of these firms have in common? Each firm was located in a city with stark racial disparities in unemployment: Black unemployment in 2008 was over 20% in each of those cities (25.4% in Saginaw), and at least twice the equivalent local figure for white male unemployment. Only 5.1% of white men were unemployed in Jonesboro, which was one-fourth of the black male rate of 21.7%.

Yet, no firms are required to collect basic gender, racial and ethnic data on those new employees who benefit from our government dollars. In fact, none of the recipients of federal stimulus funding – in any program, not just in clean energy – are required to track the race and gender impact of the monies. Without information, how can we know what progress, if any, we are currently making to close the racial and gender gaps in good, green jobs? We can’t.

But, community organizations are fighting for racial and gender equity, and the Applied Research Center is working to provide them with some of the tools necessary to be successful.  Our Transforming Race workshop will build on our 2009 Race and Recession Report to document the disproportionate impact the recession has had on people of color communities, and then highlight our Green Equity toolkit and accompanying Green Equity Cohort work that provides a leadership development opportunity for organizations working to expand green jobs to low-income people of color and women. Just one of the ways to change the rules that have rigged our economy against our communities.

Friday, March 12, 2010 at the Transforming Race Conference from 4:00  – 5:30 p.m.

Dominique Apollon, Ph.D., Research Director, is a graduate of the University of Virginia (B.A., American Government, 1996), and received his doctorate in political science from Stanford University in 2003.  His dissertation, “Relieving the Toxic Burden?: Race, Hazardous Wastes, and the Politics of the Environmental Justice Movement” examined the distribution of toxic wastes in the state of California from 1989-1999, as well as the corresponding grassroots political activity and participation.  Dom has taught undergraduate seminars on the politics of race/ethnicity at Stanford University and Santa Clara University, and served as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at California State University, Bakersfield, where he taught courses on U.S. Constitutional Law, Introductory American Politics, Environmental Politics, Congress, and the Presidency from 2004-2007.


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

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