STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The national unemployment rate is now at 10.2 percent. But it's especially concentrated in industries dominated by men, like construction and manufacturing, which is why sometimes people are calling this the he-cession. And it's hit African-American men especially hard. In one of our kitchen table conversations on the nation's economy, NPR's Cheryl Corley has this profile of one man looking for work.
CHERYL CORLEY: When 53-year-old Randolph Smith is working, he manages logistics, inventory and supplies for large companies. He's been trying to find that type of work since he was laid off a year ago, but so far he's had no success.
(Soundbite of racquetball)
CORLEY: Racquetball, says Smith, has been a lifesaver.
Mr. RANDOLPH SMITH: What's up, (unintelligible)
CORLEY: And he meets friends at a local health club about three or four times a week.
Mr. SMITH: Just being with, you know, come somewhere that's affordable for me, not far from home, to be around some good friends where there's camaraderie, and to exercise, and just to get the stress off my life.
CORLEY: It's a stress that hundreds of thousands of black men face. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the latest unemployment rates for whites and Latinos at 9.5 percent and 13.1 percent, respectively, the jobless rate for African-Americans is nearly 16 percent. For African-American men who leads the country's jobless surge, it's 17.1 percent. So these days Randolph Smith's main focus is trying to land a job.
Mr. SMITH: Well, this is our office, where my wife and I spend a lot of time. I spend eight hours at least a day here.
CORLEY: Smith lives in Richton Park, a solidly middle class suburb about 30 miles southwest of Chicago. He and his wife Sabrina raised their now-adult son here. They've converted a bedroom into a home office - two desks, two computers, a file cabinet with plenty of Post-It notes attached. Smith's wife is an is an administrative assistant at a local hospital and is studying to be a nurse, and this office is where Smith conducts his job search.
Mr. SMITH: Going through a lot of the search agents that have brought information or leads to me, following up with phone calls, just making any and all new connections that I can.
CORLEY: The Smiths cut back on vacations and they don't go out much. And like any good inventory manager, Smith says he uses a spreadsheet for their grocery shopping.
Mr. SMITH: We know how to stretch a meal out, we know how to eat beans and rice, and you know, make that last for a couple of days and spaghetti and - you know, so we are doing all the right things I think we need to do to keep things going and keep our costs down.
CORLEY: When Caterpillar Incorporated started shedding jobs last year, Smith, a contract employee, was let go. It was not an unfamiliar situation. Throughout his career, just about every business Smith has worked for has closed, relocated or downsized. Typically, he's found another job quickly. Not so this time.
Mr. SMITH: I think I'm marketable, and it would usually be no problem finding some work with a temp agency, enough that would suffice. You know, since the beginning of the year, it's been dry.
CORLEY: Smith says they get by on his unemployment, his wife's part-time salary, and savings.
Unidentified Woman: Alright, we got a pop quiz.
CORLEY: About 30 people are sitting at classroom desks during a workforce readiness class run by the Chicago Urban League. This class used to be one of Smith's destinations.
Mr. SMITH: I wanted to make sure that I was as polished as possible, and you know, I just really had to get real with myself and say that, you know, I need some help here.
CORLEY: Herman Brewer, the acting CEO of Chicago's Urban League, says black men seeking work have long faced at least one of these factors - limited schooling, incarceration or discrimination. And Brewer says with lucrative manufacturing jobs disappearing, any rise in unemployment is particularly tough on black men.
Mr. HERMAN BREWER (Chicago Urban League): Because many have had to overcome so much just to get where they were in a particular job.
CORLEY: And many African-American men, says Brewer, will personalize their job loss and withdraw socially. Randolph Smith admits some of his relationships have changed.
Mr. SMITH: I've had friends that have reached out and said, Hey, man, come on up, you now, I'll pay for a round of golf for you, but not that it's pride, but you know, I just want to get through this myself.
CORLEY: What sustains him, says Smith, is his faith. He goes to church regularly. Once a week he tutors children, and then of course there's the racquetball. Smith says despite dismal job prospects, he's hopeful he'll soon leave the ever-increasing ranks of African-American males who are unemployed.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.