In Hard Times, Some Blacks Turn To Hustling

The national unemployment rate is about 9.5 percent, but among African-Americans the figure is nearly 16 percent. So, many African-Americans have turned to the underground economy to make a living.

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DON GONYEA, host:

The national unemployment rate is about 9 and a half percent. Among African-Americans, it's nearly 16 percent. So many African-Americans have turned to the underground economy to make a living.

From Los Angeles, Youth Radio's King Anyi Howell reports.

KING ANYI HOWELL: Jonathan Gibson is a slim brother, who is casually dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. He's a hustler.

Mr. JONATHAN GIBSON: What's going on, man?

HOWELL: Okay, you might be thinking he's doing something illegal. But in the African-American community, a hustler is a go-getter who makes their own way when they can't find one. And this 27-year-old is doing just that, in the swirl of street dancers and costumed superheroes that descend on Hollywood Boulevard.

Gibson's hustle is bracelets. He sells jewelry of all colors that feature heart shapes, peace signs and Bob Marley.

Mr. GIBSON: When I first kind of looked at them, I didn't really see, you know, the opportunity to, you know, to make, you know, so much revenue. But, you know, after, you know, standing out here and being out here so long, you know, on the boulevard, I found that a lot of people had a lot of love for these merchandise. So the more they kind of, you know, digged into it, the more I, you know, I digged into it.

HOWELL: Gibson sells at least 10 bracelets a day about 50 bucks in revenue. For the time being, he's ended his search for a regular, 9-to-5 job.

You hear that a lot in Los Angeles from African-American males - like Hassan Cheney. He's a 26-year-old student at the Los Angeles Film School, and he's applied to at least 15 businesses.

Mr. HASSAN CHENEY (Student): I know people with B.A.s and master's right now that can't find a job. I see people working full time, and then they're on the side, braid hair or do hair and sell Cutco knives.

HOWELL: So what does Cheney sell?

(Soundbite of music)

HOWELL: He makes music instrumentals, like that one, and earns 100 to $500 by selling them to rap artists and R&B singers.

But hustling is more than just earning money.

William Darity is a professor of African-American studies and economics at Duke University. He studied unemployment in the African-American community, and says hustling is a way folks can stay motivated for a regular job later.

Professor WILLIAM DARITY (African-American Studies and Economics, Duke University): These types of activities do help enable people to keep food on the table. Certainly, individuals who are engaged in street corner entrepreneurship are potentially folks who are going to be able to be very successful engaging in sales activities.

They're communicating with people. They're trying to market their product.

(Soundbite of drums)

HOWELL: Back at Hollywood Boulevard, Jonathan Gibson has only sold a couple of bracelets, but he still has a positive outlook on his daily hustle.

Mr. GIBSON: You also meet a lot of great people out here who actually respect that, what you do, coming out here every day, because they know that nobody's making you get up to come out here. You're doing that on your own.

HOWELL: But Gibson admits he would like a steady paycheck. That way, he can hustle at a regular job - and have health insurance.

For NPR News, I'm King Anyi Howell, in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of drums)

GONYEA: This story was produced by Youth Radio.

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