Ask Bernanke About This, Too

Depression-era levels of black unemployment in some cities, well-documented in HuffPo

This morning’s strong Huffington Post piece on black-unemployment is a useful clip to print out and carry to the first-ever press conference Ben Bernanke is hosting this afternoon.

Everybody’s got an opinion on what to ask: David Leonhardt wants to know about jobs overall. Me too. A Wall Street Journal reader asked this good one:

If you are serious about operating a more transparent Federal Reserve, why did it take three years to get you to release data on discount window borrowings by banks during the country’s worst economic disaster since the Great Depression?


A Stanford professor in the same post wants to know if global inflation will make its way here. Indeed.

The WSJ has an excellent tip sheet on what to look for and how to translate some of the terms.

Meanwhile, HuffPo’s Janell Ross offers a nicely balanced look at the particularly acute problem not just of employment, but black unemployment, now 14% in New York, 17% in Chicago, and 26% in Detroit (see the interactive chart), etc., and always significantly higher than also-high white unemployment.

For a variety of reasons—ranging from levels of education and continuing discrimination to the relatively young age of black workers—black unemployment tends to run twice the rate for whites. Yet since the Great Recession, joblessness has remained so critically elevated among African Americans that it is challenging longstanding ideas about what it takes to find work in the modern-day economy.

To make its poignant point, the story profiles a single-mother/striver in Charlotte (a city deemed by Forbes three years ago as “recession-proof.” This is why those lists will always get in you trouble. Just ask Fortune.)

In Charlotte, the white unemployment rate is now roughly the national average, 8.2 %, but black unemployment is 19.2%, a number made even more dramatic by that fact that it had fallen to 4.9% in 2000. Wow.

An interesting side note in the story is the role of the financial services industry in providing the foundation for African-American gains, both in that bank-heavy city and elsewhere (its role in exploding minority wealth via the mortgage frenzy is a subject of another post). The profile’s subject, Wanda Nolan, had risen from an entry-level job as a fill-in bank teller to a career as a commercial banking assistant. She finished college and then got an MBA, and bought a house for $65,000.

Now she’s struggling to hold on to it, and hold on generally, with the help of a lot of government programs. There’s a lot to read, but what struck me is the scene in a coffee shop frequented by the unemployed of all races.

A white man at a nearby table sits hunched over a cup of coffee and newspaper when his cell phone rings. He apparently is also looking for work. A contractor is looking for someone with commercial building experience to finish out some concrete work. The man’s back straightens. He poured his first driveway when he was 17 years old, he tells the potential employer on the other end of the phone.

So, there is no shortage of questions for Bernanke. Besides the real inflation threat, there is unemployment, and even deeper unemployment.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman. Tags: , ,