- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 31, 2009

Consumer confidence and stock-market numbers are heading north; and some economic forecasters even say the recession will be over come late fall.

Not so fast, says Andrew Sum, a labor-economics professor at Northeastern University in Boston: “Unemployment numbers will continue to be high.”

Those numbers are particularly gruesome among young, black males, which is beyond worrisome for the black family and community, experts in those areas say.

For example, for black males ages 20 to 24, the unemployment rate is close to 50 percent; in the black community overall, men have absorbed 100 percent of the job losses 463,000 jobs since the recession started in November 2007.

And even if the economy grows by the forecasted 1.3 percent, it’s not enough to create job growth, says Mr. Sum, who doesn’t anticipate any net job growth until 2011.

“From a fatherhood perspective, it’s going to have an enormous impact on an already fragile community,” says Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonprofit group aimed at “increasing the proportion of children growing up with an involved, responsible and committed father.”

“So much of the traditional view of the father revolves around his ability to provide,” says Mr. Warren, who writes a column for The Washington Times.

And when he can’t, then what?

The self takes a hit along with the wallet, Mr. Warren says, and adjusting to the idea of mom as the primary breadwinner might take some time. At the same time, Mr. Warren encourages men to embrace their other duties as fathers.

“You can nurture and guide even when you’re not making money and those are the lasting things anyway,” he says.

While older generations may have a harder time assuming the “father as child caregiver” role, young, black men likely will embrace it more readily, says Melinda Chateauvert, assistant professor of African-American studies at the University of Maryland.

“I think there is a changing pattern there,” Ms. Chateauvert says. “I see young black men wanting to be more involved in child care.”

And it’s not like a job search these days requires you to go door to door, she says. A lot of it can be done online while taking care of children, she suggests.

Meanwhile, black women have experienced a small net job gain during this recession, mainly due to the fact that they are overwhelmingly employed in health care and education, two sectors that haven’t experienced huge layoffs since November 2007, Mr. Sum says.

But the fact that these two sectors are still hiring doesn’t mean black men will flock to them, says Kevin Roy, associate professor of family science at the University of Maryland.

“I think a lot of them would love to go into more traditionally female jobs, but how do you do that and make money at the same time?” Mr. Roy says. “We need more job training programs to address these needs.”

But labor-market numbers suggest that even college-educated black men are having a difficult time in this recession; in fact, black men with some college education have experienced a job-loss rate of 6 percent.

“They’re being pushed out of the labor market at a horrendous rate,” Mr. Sum says. “What kind of signal are you giving kids in the black community?” Mr. Sum says. “Get a bachelor’s degree and you’ll be able to order a drink in four languages.”

But Mr. Warren refuses to take a defeatist approach.

“You can see things as oppression or opportunity,” he says. “I hope people will see this as an opportunity to overcome adversity, to gain a new perspective on their role, to become more connected to the family and to embrace the privilege of being a good dad.”

To Ms. Chateauvert, though, the real worry is not the immediate family. It’s the extended family, which in many cases in the black community is at least partly supported by the core dual-income family.

“What happens to the elderly relatives when dad loses his job?” she says. “They might slip into real poverty without those two incomes.”

Her colleague Mr. Roy agrees: “When these guys lose their jobs, it affects the whole network of family members.”

Adds Mr. Sum, who urges more job-training programs and attention to what he calls a labor-market crisis: “It is quite ironic that at the time of the nation’s election of its first black president its economy was displacing black men from employment at a rate far above that of any other gender or race-ethnic group.”

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