Dallas-area residents feel exhausted, pessimistic about employment
By Tonya Whitaker
NDG Staff Writer
Emma West, Kathy Peterson and Jason Powell are all African American. And, they are all unemployed.
While people of all races are affected by unemployment, it is astronomically high in the African American community. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in June 2011, the unemployment rate for the general population was 9.1 percent. But, for African Americans the number skyrocketed to 16.2 percent. The number for African American males was 17.5 percent.
There is enough blame to go around. The Congressional Black Caucus has attempted to point fingers at President Barack Obama. U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) recently questioned Obama’s priorities during a CBC summit.
“Unemployment and education is a common thread among all of us. I have great respect for the president. I knew he was going to inherit a whole lot more problems. I understand all of that, but the people with the least of these (education and employment) should be his number one priority – and that’s us.”
In June, the Texas Workforce commission reported the Dallas-Plano-Irving had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, at 7.9 percent. Jobs exist, but competition for jobs is fierce. During a job fair sponsored by Career Solutions, a nonprofit job-seeker organization based in Euless, at least 60 employers attended, but at least 600 individuals attended the fair.
While the state does not maintain unemployment rates by race or gender, signs show there are still numerous African Americans who are out of work in Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Take Emma West of Irving, a 50-plus-year-old former medical recruiter. West said she has attended job fair after job fair only to see little results.
“For me, I don’t see big job fairs as a positive move,” she said. “You are like a fish in a can of sardines. There are so many people at these job fairs that you cannot find your own space.”
West said the main reason why blacks cannot find jobs is because they don’t have the connections within companies to get their feet in the door. She said while other races find little shame in hiring individuals of their own race, African Americans who have the authority to hire other blacks sometimes shy from it because of fear of being labeled.
“Those who can extend a hand are not doing it,” West said.
Garland resident Jason Powell, 30, has been unemployed since April, when he was laid off from his job with Spring Wireless. At this point, Powell said, his career is up in the air.
“For the first time in my life, I don’t know what to do,” the father of one said. “I have not started to look for a new job, but I really dread doing it.”
Before being laid off in April from Spring Wireless, Powell said he worked for three years as a tech support contractor for the Frito Lay division of the Pepsi Corporation in Plano.
Powell has a computer certificate, and he is thinking about going back to school to further his education, but he is debating his major.
“I don’t want to get hired by another computer company that will turn around and decide to ship their services overseas.”
While there is plenty blame to go around for the African American male unemployment crisis, his reason has nothing to do with Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush or racism.
“Outsourcing is the reason why these numbers are so high,” he said. “The jobs have left America, but the workers are still here.”
Coppell Kathy Peterson is in the same predicament as West. Peterson, who is in her late 50s, has been unemployed since December 2008. Before being laid off, Peterson worked in human resources and information technology. She has a bachelor’s of business administration, but few opportunities have arisen.
Peterson said she has attended plenty of job fairs. When she first became unemployed, she took part in various networking groups, where she was able to meet with a resume guru and participant in interviewing classes.
“I was in a networking circle with 15 white women. They are all now employed,” she said. “Some of them don’t even have a college degree.”
Peterson said her experience with job fairs have not been positive. For instance, she recently attended an Urban League of Greater Dallas job fair. She said the employers in attendance where nothing that appealed to individuals with bachelor’s degrees or higher.
“Avon, Mary Kay and University of Phoenix were there. They (University of Phoenix and the other schools) were not there to highlight job opportunities; they were there to get you to go to their schools,” she said. “Job fairs are a way for companies to get the word out about their business.”
Peterson said she will continue to submit resumes, but she has decided to further her education.
“Companies are not hiring professionals with bachelor’s degrees because they don’t want to pay them what they are worth,” she said. “It is especially crushing for the older African American. They would prefer to hire someone younger and pay them less.”
Peterson, Powell and West agree that, in today’s job market, it is all in who you know.
“You must know someone in the company to get your resume to the top. Otherwise it goes into a black hole,” Peterson said.
Editor’s Note: HOLT CAT is hosting a job fair on Saturday, July 30, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at HOLT CAT’s facility at 2000 E. Airport Freeway in Irving.