LIANE HANSEN, host:
No doubt the unemployment figures are grim, but among African-American young men, they are downright catastrophic. Fifty-two percent of black men between the ages of 16 and 19 are unemployed - and that only counts those still looking for work. Economists says legions of other young black men - no one knows how many - have given up the search.
NPR's Sam Sanders reports.
SAM SANDERS: Andre Johnson is 18 and a student at the YouthBuild Charter School in the District of Columbia. He talks about his fruitless job search.
Mr. ANDRE JOHNSON: I apply for jobs every day, and usually I do it online, 'cause I know before when I used to go in the stores, they used to look at me actually different and weird, and they'd say, oh, we don't have no applications or nothing, and I never believed them.
SANDERS: Academics believe only 14 in 100 young black men actually have jobs. And Washington, D.C. has the worst teen employment rate in the country.
Experts point to several reasons for the disparity. Allison Lee is a job placement specialist at YouthBuild. The school helps youth complete their GEDs, gain job training and land internships and jobs. Lee says she sees discrimination from hiring managers firsthand.
Ms. ALLISON LEE (Job Placement Specialist, YouthBuild Charter School): They have told me on the phone or to my face that they're hiring, and when I send a student in by himself who's a young black male, they're told, no, we're not hiring.
SANDERS: Academics say there are other reasons for these high unemployment rates. There are few African-Americans working in hiring offices and few networks exist in their communities to help them get jobs. It all sets up a disturbing trend.
The Economic Policy Institute says the numbers are so bad, the job prospects of white, adult felons are still higher than those of black, teenage men without any criminal record. Also, older workers who have been laid-off from higher paying jobs are now taking the entry-level jobs many black teens apply for. In fact, more people over 55 are working in this recession than were before.
And it's not just low-income households that are hurting. Dr. Andrew Sum is with the Center for Labor Market Studies. He found that upper-middle-class black teenagers are less likely to be employed than low-income white teenagers. Sum says that young people need to work during their teen years.
Dr. ANDREW SUM (Center for Labor Market Studies): Those people who work a lot when they're teenagers not only benefit when they're teenagers, but they also will work more and earn more when they're 20 to 25 years old. The more you work now, the more you work tomorrow.
SANDERS: Eighteen-year-old Anthony Bishop stands in front of his school in Southeast D.C. It's the Building for the Future Charter School. He's on his lunch break outside in the cold. He's been applying for jobs and has tough love for jobseekers.
Mr. ANTHONY BISHOP: Young black men, they need to stop dressing certain ways when they go and apply for a job, 'cause some black people just, they'll just go on the job, you know, baggy jeans, you know, just try to apply for a job, but that ain't the right way to do it. You got to go dress for the occasion.
SANDERS: A few miles away, back at YouthBuild, 19-year-old Isaiah Brown has a few words for all the managers who wouldn't hire him.
Mr. ISAIAH BROWNI would just tell them you missed out on a good, hard worker who comes every day, who do what he's told. And you just missed out on a good opportunity for your business.
SANDERS: Corey Evans, another YouthBuild student, is still optimistic.
Mr. COREY EVANS: There's black brothers out there, just keep trying and don't let nothing hold you back.
SANDERS: Evans says the best way to get a job is to not worry about the economy, or your color, even if others do.
Sam Sanders, NPR News.
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