Beleaguered by high unemployment and an economy drifting away from blue-collar jobs that had kept many African-American men employed in past decades, New Orleans needs to do a better job of educating and advancing the careers of black men, according to a report that Loyola University released Wednesday.
The answer to New Orleans problems? Increasing the white proportion of the overall population in the city
The report, published by the Lindy Boggs National Center for Community Literacy, describes black men, who account for 26 percent of the city's population that is able to work, as an untapped resource as the city's growing construction and manufacturing businesses place more and more value on education beyond a high school diploma.
"If New Orleans is to substantially reverse decades of economic decline, high crime rates, and a shrinking city tax base, then greater educational attainment and economic progress for African-American men will be critical," the report's conclusion states.
The report, coupled with another from the New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium that advocates for better data to be collected on men as parents, came about from patterns that Boggs Center Director Petrice Sams-Abiodun noticed in her research as a family demographer.
"Our primary goal was to think about the recovery and rebuilding of New Orleans," she said, and in doing that, to be "sure to be very vocal that poor or marginalized men, and in particular African-American men, had access to opportunities."
New Orleans' job market has been in decline for 30 years, but the changes have hit the African-American community especially hard. The city lost almost 47,000 jobs between 1980 and 2004, according to the Boggs Center report, which was based on data compiled by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. And from 1980 to 2011, the employment rate for black men fell from 63 percent to 48 percent, leaving the majority unemployed or having given up looking for work entirely.
By contrast, white men in New Orleans saw their employment rate drop only from 80 percent in 1980 to 74 percent in 2011, meaning that they fared better through the oil bust of the 1980s and the economic downturn in the first decade of the new century.
The report suggests that higher levels of education within the white community accounted for a resiliency the black community didn't have.
As the value of education rose in many industries, black men were once again left behind, according to the report. Though the number of black men in New Orleans with high school degrees has grown by leaps and bounds, the number of those with associate degrees -- typically awarded by a community or technical college after two years of study -- hasn't changed since 1980: 15 percent. By contrast, 66 percent of white men in the city have at least an associate degree -- up 20 percent in the last 30 years and leaving whites in better position to stay employed as the job market changes.
And for those African-American men in New Orleans who have held onto jobs, they continue to take a hit on wages compared with their white counterparts, the report states. Annual salaries for black men have fallen 11 percent since 2000, down to $31,018. In a striking disparity, white men have seen their wages rise 9 percent during that period, to an average of $60,075.
The job market has always been especially tough for black men who spent time in prison, and it continues to be so. The report says that 84 percent of the 3,300 men over age 18 in New Orleans jails are African-American. On top of that, blacks spend almost twice as long awaiting trial in the troubled Orleans Parish Prison, further undercutting their ability to hold onto any job they may have had.
John Thompson, founder of Resurrection After Exoneration, a nonprofit group geared toward helping exonerated former felons to find employment, said that need is more fundamental than providing higher education for former or convicted felons leaving prison.
"Give me a trade over education any time," he said. "It's what a man needs now to feed his family."
Thompson also called for ending the stigma that comes with the label "convicted felon" on job applications. "We tell (ex-cons) they need to be a productive member of society, but society is not giving them an opportunity," he said.
After laying out one grim statistic after another, the Loyola report turns to conclusions that echo Thompson's firsthand take. It says more must be done to feed African-American men into jobs in burgeoning industries. It calls for programs to recruit high school graduates into the petrochemical industry, and for providing better job-skills training to the poor, to convicts and to black men working low-wage jobs.
Meanwhile, a renaissance of sorts is happening in New Orleans.
"If we could address the inequalities and disparities of black men, we'd have a stronger New Orleans," Sams-Abiodun said.
And it's called gentrification. [Gentrification and its Discontents: Notes from New Orleans, New Geography, 3-1-13]:
One Storm, Two Waves
Everything changed after August-September 2005, when the Hurricane Katrina deluge, amid all the tragedy, unexpectedly positioned New Orleans as a cause célèbre for a generation of idealistic millennials. A few thousand urbanists, environmentalists, and social workers—we called them “the brain gain;” they called themselves YURPS, or Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals—took leave from their graduate studies and nascent careers and headed South to be a part of something important.
Many landed positions in planning and recovery efforts, or in an alphabet soup of new nonprofits; some parlayed their experiences into Ph.D. dissertations, many of which are coming out now in book form. This cohort, which I estimate in the low- to mid-four digits, largely moved on around 2008-2009, as recovery moneys petered out. Then a second wave began arriving, enticed by the relatively robust regional economy compared to the rest of the nation. These newcomers were greater in number (I estimate 15,000-20,000 and continuing), more specially skilled, and serious about planting domestic and economic roots here. Some today are new-media entrepreneurs; others work with Teach for America or within the highly charterized public school system (infused recently with a billion federal dollars), or in the booming tax-incentivized Louisiana film industry and other cultural-economy niches.
Brushing shoulders with them are a fair number of newly arrived artists, musicians, and creative types who turned their backs on the Great Recession woes and resettled in what they perceived to be an undiscovered bohemia in the lower faubourgs of New Orleans—just as their predecessors did in the French Quarter 80 years prior. It is primarily these second-wave transplants who have accelerated gentrification patterns.Those people 'gentrifying' New Orleans, and helping turn around a once moribund city - courtesy of a population that was 70 percent black prior to Hurricane Katrina - are the greatest asset Orleans Parrish has right now.
And the greatest liability to the salvation of the city is the population the New Orleans Times Picayune claims is its greatest untapped resource.
Up is down. Left is right. Black is white