Nationwide, African American unemployment stands at around 16 percent, significantly higher than the overall national average. It’s also at a level similar to those in the Depression-era. In looking at the nationwide data on African American unemployment, one city in particular stands out: Milwaukee, where unemployment for African American men is 34 percent.
Just 40 years ago, 8 out of 10 black men were employed. Most found jobs in manufacturing, where a kid coming out of high school used to be able to earn a decent wage and support a family, but not anymore.
Now, Milwaukee has begun a new program which matches high school drop-outs, low-skilled workers, even some ex-felons, with businesses willing to train them. For six months, men like Darius Smith are paid to learn carpentry or electrical installation skills.
“If we provide a little bit of opportunity for them it spreads,” says contractor Troy Reese.
Reese says he was eager to sign up to be a trainer and has taken on some tough cases.
“We’ve had people that are 12 years out of prison, (and) their first job is our job. So we really have to balance out the needs of each applicant,” Reese says.
The persistent problem of black male unemployment has yet to be adequately addressed by any community. It is absurd that Milwaukee is the first and only city making a special effort to tackle a conundrum whose permutations touch so many lives. If black males are not working, their lack of income contributes to their mass incarcerations rates, the trials of the poor single mother, and many other social ills.