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For Black Americans, A Longer Time Without Work

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Although the U.S. gained more than 120,000 jobs last month, the numbers of the long-term unemployed barely shifted and the unemployment rates for African-Americans continued to go through the roof.

A recent NPR and Kaiser Family foundation poll shows although the long-term unemployed face many of the same difficulties regardless of race, there are distinct differences between blacks and whites struggling to find work.

Out-of-work blacks, whites, Latinos and Asians all took part in the NPR-Kaiser survey. There was only a large enough sample of blacks and whites, however, to specifically break out their responses.

"First of all, we found that among those people who have been unemployed for a long time, African-Americans make up a greater share of that population than they do of full-time workers," says Kaiser Family Foundation Researcher Liz Hamel.

Blacks make up about 10 percent of the full-time working population but 27 percent of the long-term unemployed — that is, those who haven't had a full-time job for a year or more. And unlike whites, blacks are more likely to be without a job at all.

Willa Booker, 53, lives in a two-bedroom bungalow on Chicago's West Side. A former hospital administrator with 20 years of experience, Booker has been unemployed for two-and-a-half years. She's mother of two adult children and an 11-year-old daughter; there won't be any gifts under the Christmas tree this year, she says.

"My daughter needs school clothes. My home is about to be taken from me. They just tried to repo my vehicle two weeks ago. [The] only thing I've always asked for is someone to give me a chance, and I could prove myself," Booker says.

Booker is taking online classes to get a master's degree. She earned $50,000 a year and now lives on $300 a month in public assistance. She's no longer eligible for unemployment.

The survey shows blacks are less likely, and whites are more likely, to blame President Obama and Democrats for the country's unemployment situation. However, both blacks and whites are more likely to blame Wall Street financial institutions and, like Booker, Republicans in Congress.

"Congress — they don't help nobody," she says. "If my 99 weeks are up in unemployment, and they look at my record, you'll see I was a working person. I'm worthy."

Economists say the African-American unemployment rate is so high — 15.5 percent at last count — for a number of reasons, including less education for blacks, job discrimination and huge slashes in public sector jobs where many African-Americans are employed.

Roderick Harrison, a senior research scientist at Howard University, says another significant factor in the slower hiring of blacks is that they are generally less well connected.

"Your resume goes in, but there's nobody there to say, 'I know this person [that's] applied, take a look,' " he says.

Outside of young people, black men have it the worst among the unemployed. November's labor department stats put their jobless rate at 16.5 percent

Jonathan Gandy, 30, has been unemployed for about a year and six months. He was laid off from a full-time job as a project coordinator at an insurance company.

"Currently, I'm in the market for project coordination gigs," Gandy says. "I've applied and I get a lot of responses. Lots of headhunters call me."

But Gandy says no far he's had no success and he's worried that the longer he's off the job market, he'll be less competitive against those with no break in their employment history.

In lieu of a full-time job, Gandy and a friend have formed their own production company, doing photo shoots and videotaping weddings. He says he's barely making ends meet. The NPR/Kaiser poll found that African-Americans, like Gandy, are more likely than whites to say they'll be able to find a job with the pay and benefits they need.

"I'm still optimistic, honestly. I still see opportunities and I still get calls," he says.

More than half of blacks and a third of whites felt the same way. It's an optimism that may be hard to hold on to, black or white, in a grim economy that's kept so many unemployed for so long.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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