The May unemployment rate, a number produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), came out yesterday, and is officially reported at 13.3%. What many people have missed in the report is the asterisk, and its associated note – that some people who should have been classified as “temporarily unemployed” during the shutdown were instead misclassified as employed but “absent” from work for “other reasons” (Washington Post, 6/6/20), bringing the actual unemployment number to 16.3%.
The job market has always been significantly more challenging for people of color. While we are taking to the streets to protest the senseless loss of lives like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbory, and so many others, at the hands of the police, it’s also way past time to consider what’s been happening way closer to home. I’m talking about what’s happening at the office, at the places we shop, in every aspect of our economy.
Having worked with Black and Brown students and clients trying to navigate a hostile job market, I’ve seen obvious and insidious discrimination up close. I’ve battled it and used my voice and influence where I can. Sometimes my efforts, combined with the voices of others, have had an impact. But it’s not enough. I can tell you that the injustice is real, and it is vast. And that doesn’t even count the challenges for minorities once they enter the workplace.
There is institutionalized discrimination in the job search and advancement system in our country. The system structurally reinforces a workplace that attracts, recruits, hires and promotes people who look like the folks in control. That means fewer opportunities and long-standing pay inequities for people of color.
It can also mean toxic work environments, unfair performance practices, and blocked access to opportunities at every turn.
If you don’t see a connection between a system of gross inequities in access to opportunity and the justified anger and frustration you see in the streets right now, you may want to check out the links above. If you’d like to learn more, you can find some great resources here. Fixing this system is going to require effort and attention from every single one of us.