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Finance & Economy

Unequal Unemployment

I am thinking about a day—wow it must be 16, 17 years ago now—when I was called up to New York for a staff meeting. I lived in Washington, D.C. but worked for a news program that was produced out of New York, so I didn't think much about that call except maybe "Whoopee more frequent flyer miles for my vacation" or maybe it was..."maybe I can sneak out after to buy some cute shoes." That's about all that was on my mind. At least until I walked in from the airport, dropped my bag, and saw Roone Arledge, the legendary President of ABC News, standing in our conference room. So then I knew—this was it—we were cancelled. Show over. So I know that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize the job you liked or loved is over. That you and the colleagues you came to depend on or even cherish won't be together anymore.

Unlike all these jerk executives whom we have been hearing so much about during this recession—who are too cowardly to face their people themselves (there's a hilarious sendup in the new movie "Up In The Air" starring George Clooney as a guy who is sent around to fire people when their own bosses are too chicken to do it) OR who are so nasty and insensitive you wish they HAD hired somebody —Roone and the other execs at ABC were actually quite gracious about the whole thing. He congratulated us on what we'd accomplished, told us it wasn't our fault, told us we were great. And there was, as I recall it anyway, a heroic effort to place people in other positions or to support them while they looked for other work. But that was then and this is now.

I was thinking about that when I looked at a story in The New York Times earlier this week about black men and unemployment, specifically how college educated black men are faring compared to their white male counterparts. Why is this? The unemployment rate for college educated black men is still far lower than for less educated people, no matter the race. But what's noteworthy is the spread — there's almost no difference between the unemployment rates of the least educated workers, but nearly twice as many college educated black men are unemployed as college educated white men. It's 8.4 percent compared to 4.4 percent. Why might this be?

Now let me just say in advance I know this kind of story is catnip to racists. They'll have a lot to say about why black men just can't cut it. And you know what? There's nothing you can say to people who want to think ill of black people or women or Jewish people, or Italians or whoever.

But this is for everybody else. Why is this happening? Why are college-educated African American men less likely to be employed than their white counterparts? And more to the point, what can and should be done about it?

In the meantime, here's video from today's White House Summit on joblessness: