By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Cruader
With Illinois facing the highest Black unemployment rate in the nation, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin announced a joint county-city task force aimed at reducing Illinois’ high Black employment rate.
Boykin held a press conference at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters and was joined by other business, civic, aldermanic, and political figures including Representative Danny K. Davis (D-7th).
“While people row about unemployment being less than five percent across the nation as a whole, it is very difficult for me to get excited about that when I think of Black unemployment, and especially in Chicago among African American males,” said Rep. Davis who said 50 percent, or half, of Black males between the ages of 16-24, are unemployed.
“They don’t go to school, are not involved in any training or development activities. They are kind of floating in the wind,” Davis said vowing to “fight tooth and nail to change that picture.”
Saying he wished he could find the answers to this problem in Washington, Davis said that is not happening. Referring to President Trump, Davis said, “He has taken a meat cleaver, a butcher knife or an axe to every safety net deal with the problems, hopes and aspirations of those at the bottom.”
Referring to the “poor class,” Davis said they represent the “boats that are stuck at the very bottom of society and we have no choice except to change that.”
Concerned about the growing “indifference” about Black people, Jackson said the African American unemployment rate overall in the nation, is 12.7 percent, 6.7 percent for Latinos and 5.1 for whites which is more than double Illinois’ overall unemployment rate of 4.2 percent.
But during the third quarter of 2016, Jackson said the Black unemployment rate, 14.1 per cent, was highest in Illinois. However, among some of the Black communities the unemployment rate for Black youth is nearly 40 percent. Jackson called this a “triple threat …unemployment, poverty and violence.”
He coupled that with the more than two-years of Illinois not having a budget, and said the reduction in social services only exacerbates the violence problem. Jackson equated violence to poverty and said 17 states had Black unemployment rates below 10 percent in the third quarter of last year and in 12 of the states the rate was lower than the third quarter national average for Blacks or 8.4 percent.
Jackson pointed to the reasons for the high Black unemployment rate. He blamed it on: Illinois’ “weak” job creation, lack of construction and manufacturing opportunities, decimation of the social service economy due to the lack of a state budget and decimation of the small business sector because of the budget impasse.
But there are more reasons, he said. “The economic engines of the state are in the midst of an economic shift…from industrial, a blue collar economy, to a white collar service-based economy which leaves Black communities and their potential labor pool in the dust.”
Jackson also blamed the disappearance of retail, manufacturing and construction trade jobs for the high Black unemployment rate. Jackson challenged all of the gubernatorial candidates to address these issues when they debate July 14th at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition conference.
Boykin, who last year held a series of town hall meetings in Chicago’s most violent communities, made his case about the Black unemployment rate, which he says is unacceptable. “America’s house is really on fire and a room, the Black room…is really on fire” predicting “the whole house is going to burn down. “This is a national security crisis, a threat to our national security that Blacks are not gainfully employed in Illinois.”
Boykin, who said in Illinois only 51 percent of Blacks are employed, 49 percent unemployed, said in West Garfield Park, the per capita income is $10,951, and 40.3 percent of residents are living below the poverty line, with an unemployment rate of 25.2 percent.
In Englewood, the average per capita household income is $11,993, with 42.2 percent of households living below the poverty line and an unemployment rate of 21.3 percent.
In Washington Park, per capita household income is $13,087, with 39.1 percent of households living below the poverty line, and an unemployment rate of 23.2 percent.
In Fuller Park, the numbers are even more alarming. Boykin said the per capita household income for this community is $9,016, with 55.5 percent of households living below the poverty line and an unemployment rate of 40 percent.
North Lawndale’s per capita household income is $12,548, with 38.6 percent of households living below the poverty line and an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent.
And in Austin the per capita income is $15,920, with an unemployment rate of 21 percent.
“During the height of the Great Depression, the unemployment rate hovered at roughly 20 percent,” said Boykin.
With many housing vacancies the county’s Land Bank will be pushing for the development of properties. The jobs created would be filled by those in the community.