Blacks, browns, and jobs

Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show,
[for black men]
  • finishing high school is the exception,
  • legal work is scarcer than ever, and
  • prison is almost routine,
    with incarceration rates climbing for blacks
    even as urban crime rates have declined.


The share of young black men without jobs has climbed relentlessly,
with only a slight pause during the economic peak of the late 1990's.
In 2000,
65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20's were jobless —
that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated.
By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent,
compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts.
Even when high school graduates were included,
half of black men in their 20's were jobless in 2004,
up from 46 percent in 2000.

  • Terrible schools,
  • absent parents,
  • racism,
  • the decline in blue collar jobs, and
  • a subculture that glorifies swagger over work
have all been cited as causes of the deepening ruin of black youths.

The New York Times

That is the fairly standard description of the job prospects for the black male
coming both from the black leadership and the liberal establishment.
Yet what I see, in the urban neighberhood in which I live,
is quite a different picture.

Specifically, I live less than five miles from the White House,
and less than ten miles from the areas of Northeast and Southeast Washington
where blacks in Washington are concentrated.
I walk daily along a Metro corridor
(“Metro” is Washington’s rapid transit system).
For the last ten years, all along that corridor, by each Metro stop,
ten-story buildings have been sprouting like mushrooms,
to the extent that some local residents have been joking that
“if they build any more the region will sink into the ground.”

Who are the workers who are building those buildings?
Aside from the foremen,
almost without exception the construction workers are brown, that is, Hispanic.

One wonders why the unemployed blacks of Washington do not take those jobs.
I doubt that the problem is education:
I don’t think all that much formal education is required for construction work.
I doubt the problem is transportation:
The jobs are, by definition, easily accessible by public transportation.
The Hispanic workers, on the other hand, seem to mainly use car pools,
pooling three or four per car or van
to get to work from wherever they live.
Surely Washington blacks could do the same.

Are the construction supervisors with hiring authority racists?
I doubt that, other than that they are looking for good workers.

Of course the above only represents
my observation about a single Washington neighborhood.
But I wonder if the same situation does not prevail more widely.

Leaving aside the realm of construction jobs,
there was a story recently in a paper
(either the NYT or WP)
about the lack of truck drivers to handle long-distance trucking runs,
to the extent that recruiters for trucking companies
were going all out to try to find drivers.

Work Ethic, Not Latinos, Is Job Barrier
By Courtland Milloy
Washington Post, Wednesday, April 12, 2006; B01

[This frank, honest column is by a WP columnist
who generally takes, from my point of view, a fairly hard-left line,
blaming the woes of the black community on white racism;
thus this column is rather a surprise.]

A young black man gets a job as a laborer on a construction site in downtown Washington. He is not mentally or physically prepared for the hard, dirty work ahead. Nor does he have a clue about the rewards of perseverance. So he wakes up the next morning, aching and demoralized. He shows up late for work and eventually stops showing up altogether.

Meanwhile, a vanload of Latinos pulls up to a job site. Only one speaks English and serves as a translator. They work as a team with near reckless abandon, hardly stopping for lunch. Before long, they are earning overtime pay.

I have seen these circumstances unfold and know construction site supervisors who have made similar observations. So I am skeptical of claims that "Latinos are taking jobs away from African Americans," which is a complaint that has resurfaced during the recent debate over restricting immigration.

Of course, there are African American successes in the construction trades. But there are troubling exceptions. For lack of even a rudimentary education and, more fundamentally, the absence of family and community support, far too many young black men are unable to compete for jobs.

If the same effort to stop illegal immigrants were being used to end, say, illiteracy, then more people might be able to understand that ignorance is the greatest threat to our national security. Stop the disproportionately high dropout rates among black high school students, and the odds of getting a job instead of going to jail improve.

"When we visit the homes of our employees, we find that Latino workers have much more family support, more intact families, than African Americans workers," said Myles Gladstone, vice president for human resources at Miller & Long Concrete Construction, the largest concrete contractor in the country. "When it comes to African American workers, retention is a huge problem, and part of the reason is a lack of support."

For the black guys I know who made it, family support helped them cope with work-related stress as well as the disdain for blue-collar work in their neighborhoods.

"The guys used to laugh at me when I came home from work all dirty," said Malcolm Jordan, 37, a master plumber and graduate of McKinley High in the District. "They had the cars, the clothes, the girls. Now, 20 years later, their fast money is gone, and many of them are, too. But I own a home. I have a car. If the guys today could see how I live, they'd have a totally different view of what it means to come home with dirty clothes on."

Last year, Jordan started a company, A.H. Jordan Plumbing, Heating and Mechanical, with his longtime friend Anthony Best, 39, also a master plumber and graduate of Coolidge High in the District.

"I knew from the start that becoming a plumber wasn't going to be easy," Best said. "There's a view that plumbing is a 'white man's trade,' and, sure enough, some people did try to make us quit. The black guys who began quitting early on in life ended up quitting every time. But those of us who were taught how to keep our eyes on the prize went on to become successful."

James A. Thrower, 35, a graduate of Banneker High in the District, served as an apprentice with Local 26 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He became the first African American to graduate as valedictorian from that program and now teaches electrical work to apprentices.

"If some of these guys could just learn to read, write and do basic math, and if they didn't mind getting their hands banged up every now and then, we'd pay them to go to school, give them a job and have them making a minimum of $65,000 in five years," Thrower said. "But, and it pains me to say this, some of them really don't want to work that hard."

But that's what it takes, along with commitment, sacrifice and perseverance -- the very qualities that the only group of people to arrive on these shores as slaves relied on for survival and success.

Focus on that, not Latinos, and we may well end up like Jordan and Best: creating jobs, not just looking for them.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

Hispanic Unemployment Down, Study Finds
By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post, 2006-09-28

Unemployment among Hispanics fell sharply this year, and
their wages rose after a two-year decline,
according to a national study released yesterday.

Bolstered by immigration,
the Hispanic labor force is growing rapidly, and
those workers are having little trouble finding jobs --
especially in construction,

said the report by the Pew Hispanic Center.


The Latino labor force is growing about three times the rate for all workers,
the report found.
Hispanic unemployment
fell this spring to 4.9 percent from 5.8 percent in the same period last year.
Median weekly wages for Latinos rose from $423 in 2005 to $431 in 2006 --
still lower than those of any other ethnic group.


The report,
based on recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Labor Department,
found that unemployment dropped over the fiscal year
from 4 percent to 3.5 percent for Asians,
from 4.1 percent to 3.9 percent for non-Hispanic whites,
from 5.8 percent to 4.9 percent for Hispanics and
from 9.9 percent to 9 percent for blacks.

[The line for Hispanics was interpolated, based on the data given above.]

Labor Groups, Business Seek Immigration Law Overhaul
By Krissah Williams
Washington Post, 2007-01-20

[T]he construction industry needs 250,000 new workers per year
to replace its aging workforce,

according to Associated Builders and Contractors.

Adding a Tropical Touch
Desperate for Seasonal Workers,
Va. Ski Resort Turns to a Visa Program, and Jamaica, for Help
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post, 2007-03-21

Plagued by a chronic shortage of local workers,
Wintergreen Resort has tried every tack but lassos to fill its staff:
It has recruited 15-year-old high school kids. College kids.
Seventy-five-year-old retirees. Foreign students in work exchange programs.

Still not enough.

This season's idea: Jamaicans.

This Blue Ridge Mountains ski resort three hours southwest of Washington --
playground for the region's comfortable --
used a temporary visa program to fly in 35 islanders....

1995 – 2005: Foreign-Born Latinos Make Progress on Wages
by Rakesh Kochhar, Associate Director for Research, Pew Hispanic Center
Pew Hispanic Center, 2007-08-21

Foreign-born Latino workers made notable progress between 1995 and 2005
when ranked by hourly wage.
The proportion of foreign-born Latino workers
in the lowest quintile of the wage distribution
decreased to 36% from 42%
while many workers moved into the middle quintiles,
according to a new analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Newly arrived Hispanic workers also
were much less likely to be low-wage earners in 2005 than in 1995,
in part because they were older, better educated
and more likely to be employed in construction than in agriculture.
Yet despite the clear movement into the middle range of the wage distribution,
many foreign-born Latinos remain low-wage earners.
Even though the share of Latino workers at the low end decreased,
in absolute numbers this population grew by 1.2 million between 1995 and 2005.


Latino Immigrants' Income Is Rising
Construction Boom Pushed Low-Paid Workers to Higher Earnings, Study Says
By Krissah Williams and Sabrina Valle
Washington Post, 2007-08-22, Page D3

Latino immigrants have steadily moved out of jobs paying the lowest wages and into middle-income employment in the past decade, helped by the boom in the construction industry, which hires millions of foreign-born workers, according to a study released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Recent Latino immigrants are moving up the ladder just as foreign-born workers did generations ago, said Rakesh Kochhar, author of the study.

“Foreign-born Latino workers are making progress, and if that appears contrary to our perception, it really has to do with the sheer growth in their numbers,” Kochhar said. “Their numbers are so large that we are distracted. In relative terms, they are progressing out of the lowest-wage work and progressing toward middle-wage work.”

Foreign-born Latino workers made up 36 percent of laborers earning less than $8.50 per hour in 2005, compared with 42 percent earning low wages in 1995, according to a Pew analysis of U.S. Census data. Kochhar said that the advancement of Latino immigrants to middle-income scale was faster than pay increases among native-born workers. He attributed Latino immigrants’ rising incomes to the construction boom, which has since slowed down.

Even as many Latino immigrants moved up the pay scale, other foreigners replaced them at the bottom. While the number of Latino immigrants earning “middle income,” defined as $8.50 to $16.20 per hour, increased to 2.6 million, there were 3.3 million earning a lower wage, primarily in the service industry as janitors, lawn-cutters and dishwashers.

The number of Latino immigrants on the low end of the wage scale grew by 1.2 million workers, but that was about 600,000 fewer than would be expected based on the growth of the foreign-born Latino population, Kochhar said.

However, the stagnation of the real estate industry, rising interest rates and slowing construction could soon affect the immigrant workers who benefited from the boom in the late 1990s.



Slowly Building Diversity In Construction Labor Force
Firms Are Starting to Hire More Black Workers in a Majority-Hispanic Field
By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post, 2008-10-15

[An excerpt; emphasis is added.]

[T]o follow Brown [a Miller & Long employee trying to hire blacks]
is also to glimpse why
black residents remain underrepresented in construction regionally and nationally
even as nearly one out of every 10 black men in the District and nationally
is unemployed
about twice the rate for whites.
Black high school graduates with solid work histories
often assume construction is a dead-end job
when they pass work sites filled with immigrants,

Brown said.
So his recruiting pool is largely made up of
ex-offenders struggling to readjust to working life -- and many don’t succeed.
Even the company’s longtime black workers often chafe at
the isolation on construction sites where few people speak English,
and tensions between them and their Latino bosses can run high.


Day Laborers Are Easy Prey in New Orleans
New York Times, 2009-02-16

[Its beginning.]

NEW ORLEANS — They are the men still rebuilding New Orleans more than three years after Hurricane Katrina, the head-down laborers from Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala who work on the blazing hot roofs and inside the fetid homes for a wad of cash at the end of the day.

But on the street, these laborers are known as “walking A.T.M.’s.”

Their pockets stuffed with bills, the laborers are vulnerable because of language problems and their status as illegal immigrants.


The above photo is of construction workers on a lunch break in Washington's Ward 5.
It accompanies this 2012-05-10 Washington Post story.

In general,
D.C. blacks are constantly complaining about the lack of jobs for blacks.
On the other hand, in this photo, of the eight workers in the foreground,
so far as I could tell, none of them are black; all seem to be Hispanic.

There was a story several years ago in the Post on precisely this subject,
in which at least one person interviewed observed that
whenever they hired blacks, their work ethic compared unfavorably
to that of their Hispanic hires.
That seems to be what most observers say, if not very loudly.
Does it seem fair, or just,
for blacks to complain so much about their lack of employment
which it seems to be their own characteristics
that account for their low rate of employment?


Workers Claim Racial Bias in Farms’ Hiring of Immigrants
New York Times, 2013-05-07

VIDALIA, Ga. — For years, labor unions and immigrant rights activists have accused large-scale farmers, like those harvesting sweet Vidalia onions here this month, of exploiting Mexican guest workers. Working for hours on end under a punishing sun, the pickers are said to be crowded into squalid camps, driven without a break and even cheated of wages.

But as Congress weighs immigration legislation expected to expand the guest worker program, another group is increasingly crying foul — Americans, mostly black, who live near the farms and say they want the field work but can’t get it because it is going to Mexicans. They contend that they are illegally discouraged from applying for work and treated shabbily by farmers who prefer the foreigners for their malleability.

“They like the Mexicans because they are scared and will do anything they tell them to,” said Sherry Tomason, who worked for seven years in the fields, then quit. Last month she and other residents filed a federal lawsuit against a large onion grower, Stanley Farms, alleging that it mistreated them and paid them less than the Mexicans.

The suit is one of a number of legal actions against farms with similar complaints, including one against a large farm in Moultrie, Ga., in which Americans said they were fired based on their race and national origin, given less desirable jobs and provided with fewer work opportunities than Mexican guest workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the farm, Southern Valley, have a consent decree in which the farm agreed to make certain changes.

With local unemployment at about 10 percent and the bureaucracy for hiring foreigners onerous — guest workers have to be imported and housed and require extensive paperwork — it would seem natural for farmers to hire from within their own communities, which they did a generation ago.

In fact, the farmers say, they would dearly like to.

“We have tried to fill our labor locally,” said Brian Stanley, one of the owners of Stanley Farms, which is being sued by Ms. Tomason and others. “But we couldn’t get enough workers and that was hindering our growth. So we turned to the guest worker program.”

The vast majority of farm workers in the country are not in the guest worker program but are simply unauthorized immigrants. The plan to place those workers on a path to legal status will reduce the chances of their being exploited, the bill’s sponsors say, and thereby also improve the status of Americans who feel they cannot compete against vulnerable foreigners.

Mr. Stanley, like other farmers, argues that Americans who say they want the work end up quitting because it is hard, leaving the crops to rot in the fields. But the situation is filled with cultural and racial tensions.

Even many of the Americans who feel mistreated acknowledge that the Mexicans who arrive on buses for a limited period are incredibly efficient, often working through the dark seven days a week to increase their pay.

“We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired — unfairly, he says — from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.”

Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, made a similar point.

“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know, what’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”

Such generalizations lead lawyers — and residents — to say there are racist undertones to the farms’ policies.


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