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US recession pains minorities

The recession has delivered a disproportionate blow to blacks and Hispanics,yet minorities are more optimistic.

Written by Reuters | Chicago |
July 31, 2009 12:59:55 pm

The recession has delivered a disproportionate blow to blacks and Hispanics,yet minorities may be more optimistic about the economy than most Americans and many feel they have earned a place at the corporate table.

A pair of surveys released this week carried some hopeful signs for minorities,who in recent years have seen African-Americans occupy top executive posts at an expanding roster of companies,including Time Warner Inc and Xerox Corp.

But in factories and the lower rungs of corporate America,workplace diversity often is a secondary priority,according to Marc Morial,president of the National Urban League,a civil rights group holding its annual meeting this week in Chicago.

Blacks and Hispanics have suffered disproportionately in the recession because they often lack seniority,and they are heavily represented in the hard-hit retail,manufacturing and auto industries,Morial said in an interview.

The unemployment rate for US blacks has hovered between 1-1/2 times and double that of whites for several years.

So as the national jobless rate has risen to 9.5 per cent — and is predicted to rise further — the rate among blacks has jumped as high as 15 per cent and the rate among Hispanics is 12.7 per cent,while white unemployment reached 8.7 per cent midway through 2009.

“Increasing joblessness will continue to plague the nation as a whole into 2010,and its effects will be disproportionately borne by blacks and Hispanics,” wrote Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute,a liberal research group,in a report issued last week.

Surprising Optimism

Perhaps surprisingly,a survey by banking giant Citigroup Inc found minorities had a more positive view of the economy than the majority of Americans. Of 100 blacks and Hispanics surveyed earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year,about half believed the economy will improve over the next six months,compared to 38 per cent of a larger national sample of workers.

They were not asked about their own prospects.

Blacks and Hispanics tend to have a more hopeful sense that hard times will abate,said Eric Eve,the bank’s head of community relations.

Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president has also instilled optimism among minorities,said the Economic Policy Institute’s Christian Dorsey.

In a survey of 1,250 minority workers by the National Urban League,77 per cent said their companies valued the opinions of all employees,as compared to 38 per cent with that view in a 2004 survey on the topic. And 62 per cent thought all employees had an equal chance to advance,versus 44 per cent in 2004.

“It’s in the white-collar (jobs) that I think you’ve seen progress in the last 10 years where African-Americans have gained some seniority,” Morial said.

However a majority said firms did a poor job of tracking diversity and executives were not vocal in support of it.

Progress for blacks has been most marked in the automotive industry,where they made up 14 per cent of workers compared to 11 per cent of the overall American work force.

“I’m concerned that the downturn in the automobile industry is going to affect diversity in those companies,” Morial said.

Minorities may also regress as deficit-ridden government bureaucracies pare jobs that are a key source of employment.

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