Some African Americans believe that the tragedy of 9/11 had no impact on the black community. However, as I correlate the events transpiring out of that tragedy I see it as the starting point of the unemployment crisis among Black men in America.
Before the tragedy, many African-American men were able to make a livable wage in support and service positions. Brothers had positions working as clerks in the mailrooms, copy centers, fax rooms, and maintenance positions. Others found steady work as bike messengers and dispatchers, some even had their own messenger services. Some found work as supervisors and managers. Most of these jobs only required a high school diploma or less, but paid comparable to some senior management and executive positions when overtime was factored in.
With the economic boom from the dot-com craze there was a shortage of workers and suddenly black men educated and uneducated found themselves in demand. Any job a brotha wanted he could get easily.
Then came the tragedy of 9/11.
In its aftermath came a recession that had not only a devastating impact on America’s spirit, but a more devastating impact on the African-American community nationwide. Millions of Black men across the country were laid off from their stable jobs. Worse, due to the need for increased security, Wall Street and corporate America were changing the way they did business. This change in business practices led to a seismic shift in the job market that created an unemployment crisis among African-American men.
After the tragedy, E-mail systems that were the secondary line of communication for many firms became the primary way of getting business done. As business owners adapted to a new reality of closed streets and heavy security in and around their office buildings in New York and other business districts across the country, they realized that since E-mail enabled them to communicate with employees and clients quickly and get business done faster. In addition, E-mail systems and e-commerce were saving them a ton of money, so they no longer needed fax clerks (e-mail rendered this device obsolete), a full reprographics department or a heavily staffed mailroom to sort correspondence and documents that was no longer was being produced. So a lot of brothas lost their jobs as a result of technology increasing business productivity.
Due to the increased need for security and confidentiality after 9/11, many firms began using FedEx and UPS instead of local messenger services to deliver documents. Since Fed Ex and UPS guarantees and insures packages it ships, and provides tracking of packages many business owners began reconsidering the use of local messenger services for day-to-day deliveries of documents. With streets closed and security in most office towers so tight that one needed ID to enter and leave a building, local messengers found themselves unable to gain access to deliver packages the way they used to. As a result of this shift in corporate America’s business practices, many black men who worked as bike and foot messengers found themselves out of work as entire messenger services were put out of business.
Another industry where many African-Americans found work, the temp agency was devastated after 9/11. Due to the changing security policies, temp agencies could no longer assign workers to jobs. Because companies required background checks on all workers before employment, close to sixty percent of Temp agencies went out of business after 9/11.
As a cost cutting measure in some buildings due to the recession, some maintenance positions were phased out and replaced with cleaning crews run by independent contractors. Who were on these independent contractors’ crews? Hispanic and Eastern European men who often work for lower wages than African-American men. Building owners preferred hiring men from these groups because they didn’t have to pay for expensive benefits like unemployment insurance, pensions and health care. Since these men were independent subcontractors of the independent contractor, they weren’t working directly for the building owner like the African-American men who worked for unions and weren’t entitled to benefits guaranteed to black men under federal employment law. Worse, Many White managers and executives felt they were more “comfortable” around Hispanic and Eastern European Men and decided it was more beneficial to their business to hire them instead of black men.
Other back-office clerical positions once held by black men like office assistant and file clerk were consolidated with the Administrative Assistant position or the Customer Service/Sales position. Unlike the older jobs, these new consolidated positions often required higher education such as an Associate’s Degree, something many black men do not have. In addition to the higher education requirements most of these new positions often required public interaction and heavy phone work. Because of this public interaction component, most employers preferred filling them with Black women, Hispanic women, Hispanic men or Eastern Europeans, a double whammy for black males. A third strike against black men is that it’s often more beneficial for business owners to hire females of color because it allows them to show how diverse they are by filling two minority slots with one person.
As a result of these shifts in the American job market a large majority of black men have found themselves long-term unemployed. Many brothers couldn’t find jobs similar to the ones they had before because technology rendered them obsolete or because the jobs they had no longer existed. Others couldn’t find similar positions due to new consolidated positions in the job market requiring higher education and more advanced skills. (Many black men do not have college degrees, 7 in 10 black men do not have a high school diploma) Other positions black men used to find employment in were filled at a lower wage by black women Hispanics, or men of other ethnicities.
Almost a decade after 9/11 there’s a crisis in the black community. 80 percent of Black men are unemployed, in some urban areas, this number is close to ninety percent. Seven in ten Black men who are unemployed do not have a high school diploma; many more have no idea have no idea how to use a computer. If educated brothers and sisters don’t step up and help black men work their way out of this employment crisis, it could cripple the overall economy of the black community for decades to come.