NPR logo Obama's Success Masks Economic Tragedies

Obama's Success Masks Economic Tragedies

You probably can't tell, considering all the focus on President Obama's Tonight Show appearance, and also with the likes of Eric Holder, Michael Steele and Richard Parsons making headlines.

But their positions of prominence tend to mask a harsh reality of this severe economic downturn: Black men have been the most beaten down by our worsening recession.

The February numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics are bleak. More than 13 percent of all black Americans are unemployed. Contrast that with 10.9 percent of Hispanics and 7.3 percent of white Americans.

Going inside the numbers, a survey by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston finds that employment among black men alone has dropped by almost 8 percent since November of 2007. In fact, over the last decade the employment rate for black men ages 20-24 has collapsed from 68 percent to only 51 percent.

Just barely half of all young black men are working. Just. Barely. Half.

For black American women the picture is a bit brighter. An article in the Christian Science Monitor notes that an average of 120 black American women are employed for every 100 black American men.

"The current size of the overall gap in employment between black women and black men is historically unprecedented, and black Americans are the only group for whom the gender employment gap is in favor of women," the story says.

One reason for this disparity is that the college attendance rate for black women is about double that of black men. Consequently, black women have seen no net job losses when compared to black men.

Plain English: Not as much education, not as many opportunities. This at a time when way too many young black men have already given up on attempting to be the head of a household.

It's a downward spiral that's pretty much covered up every time somebody ends a discussion about lingering racial inequalities with, "But Obama is president!"

Yeah, he is. And as far as I'm concerned he can't be on the Tonight Show or any other legitimate program presenting himself as an icon of accomplishment often enough.

But let's not allow the hype over the president to obfuscate the unique challenges that many young black males still face.