Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whose Boat the Economy Isn't Floating Black Teens and the Unskilled Are among Those Still Jobless despite Buoyant Labor Market

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Whose Boat the Economy Isn't Floating Black Teens and the Unskilled Are among Those Still Jobless despite Buoyant Labor Market

Article excerpt

In the economy of the "roaring '90s," unemployment has dipped to its lowest level in a quarter century - and is expected to move even lower today when the latest labor statistics are released. But don't tell that to Wilfredo Soto or Roberto Fernandez.

Mr. Soto, an unemployed chemical worker in this lunch-pail city, lost his factory job last November when the company "downsized." Despite knocking on doors for eight months, he hasn't been able to find work to match his skills. Mr. Fernandez, a black teen in Brooklyn, N.Y., can find jobs in his neighborhood, but most are entry-level fast-food positions - something he doesn't want.

Soto and Fernandez represent two segments of the work force - inner-city teens and people with the wrong skills in the wrong place - who remain unemployed despite one of the strongest labor markets in decades.

While the nation's jobless rate is expected to drop below 5 percent today - a rate many economists consider virtually full employment - some 6.8 million people remain on the unemployment rolls. Many are people, like Soto, who lost manufacturing jobs in plant shutdowns and can find work elsewhere in the country but don't want to move. Others don't have the necessary skills or education to get jobs in an increasingly high-tech economy. Still others won't work for $5 or $6 an hour.

"If you can't find a job in this economy, you may be holding out for wages higher than the market can provide," says Audrey Freedman, a New York-based labor economist.

The job market remains particularly stubborn for black teenagers. Last month, the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 32.7 percent of all black teenagers were out of work compared to 14.5 percent of the white teens. A Department of Labor fact sheet published last year blamed lower levels of schooling, the tendency to work in jobs that get laid-off first, and "the likelihood of a greater degree of discrimination in the workplace."

The discrimination has a cooling effect on teenage aspirations. Young blacks often don't feel they can trust white employers, says Lewis Howard, a retired professor who also works with young people in Central Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. "You find they don't wish to participate in the white world ... they would rather see if they could make it on the streets," says Mr. Howard.

View from Brooklyn

A lot of frustrated black teenage job hunters end up at the Crown Heights Service Center, a social services agency in Brooklyn. "Most have almost no experience and most want to be able to go on a job with certain money without qualifications,"says Gwen Harmon, executive director of the service center.

For example, she says many unemployed minority teens won't work for Arbys or McDonald's or Burger Kings that pay only minimum wage.

"That's the last, last, last resort," says Fernandez, as he watches a basketball game in lower Manhattan. …

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