By Ellen McGirt
March 22, 2017

A new report from UCLA delves into the very real problems black workers are facing in Los Angeles. “Los Angeles is in the throes of a Black jobs crisis,” it begins. Though the study is city-specific, the findings remind us that it’s hard out there, for some people more than others.

Among their major findings:

  • Since the 1980s, the Black population in Los Angeles has declined by over 100,000 residents from 13% to 8% while the Inland Empire has gained over 250,000 Black residents.
  • Black workers with a high school or less education experience unemployment at almost double the rate as white workers at the same education level.
  • Black workers are underrepresented in professional jobs and have lower rates in manager and supervisory positions.
  • Whether working full or part time, Black workers earn only three-quarters of what white workers earn. For Black women, the wage gap is even more severe.

Grim stuff. Here’s one that really got my attention:

  • Black workers experience a myriad of negative health outcomes due to racial discrimination in employment

It’s almost like racism is literally breaking people’s hearts.

Los Angeles was one of the destination cities for black folks during The Great Migration, the slow but steady movement of six million African Americans between 1916 and 1970, from the violent repression of the Jim Crow South, to the North and West in search of a better life. Last fall, I asked Isabel Wilkerson, the author of The Warmth Of Other Suns, to explain why this history is so relevant today. “The North had not been – and has never been – forced to deal with the underlying biases and hierarchies that were as present in the South,” she told raceAhead. “When people arrived in these northern cities – looking for work, for better lives – they were met with great hostility and hyper-segregation in housing and education. And it’s dispiriting to see that hostility still exists.”

It also explains, she says, the other headlines of 2016. “Police overreach and brutality cases are a direct result of the unaddressed tensions and hostilities that are still with us. Think about it – Cleveland, Baltimore, Ferguson/St. Louis, Chicago, and Milwaukee – the most dramatic cases of police brutality are all happening in the places where people sought refuge.” And history repeats. The study suggests that black people in the Los Angeles area are feeling the need to move again.

This report drops as we are also engaging in a fraught, and long overdue conversation about white middle-class workers, many of whom are now facing several generations at or near poverty. Why were they abandoned? What is the real remedy? But history reminds us that it’s impossible to have one conversation without the other. Our stories are joined together: To leave out the experience of one group of people is to deny a fundamental reality of the other. That is the truth of our difficult history, and like it or not, no rallying cry or political fist-shaking can make it disappear.



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