Black Women Still Have Not Recovered From the Recession

For Black women, education makes the least difference in earning potential, among other factors.

J. Weston Phippen
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J. Weston Phippen
July 1, 2015, 9:22 a.m.

Angie Stack­house worked as a phar­macist, a loan of­ficer, as a vo­lun­teer at home­less or­gan­iz­a­tions and mostly as an elec­tri­cian in Mary­land, mak­ing $12.50 an hour. She’s worked since she was 14. When the re­ces­sion took her ca­reer sev­en years ago, she knew she’d find an­oth­er one. Ex­cept, the only work avail­able paid min­im­um wage. At 47-years-old, in 2010, Stack­house en­rolled in school to re­in­vent her­self.

“I’ll def­in­itely get a job,” she re­calls think­ing, “be­cause I’ll have a de­gree.” That was around the time Pres­id­ent Obama boas­ted about the Amer­ic­an labor mar­ket. “Em­ploy­ers today are look­ing for the most skilled, edu­cated work­ers,” the Pres­id­ent had said around that time.

Stack­house stud­ied busi­ness man­age­ment, and in 2014 crossed the stage at Cath­ol­ic Uni­versity of Amer­ica. At 51, she up­dated her re­sume and went on­line, hope­ful that an edu­ca­tion would make the dif­fer­ence.

Around this time, Black wo­men like Stack­house in the U.S. had seen the smal­lest change in em­ploy­ment since the re­ces­sion. They ac­coun­ted for just 12 per­cent of the fe­male work­force, but rep­res­en­ted 42 per­cent of lost jobs among wo­men, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port called Black Wo­men in the United States, which high­lights their dis­pro­por­tion­ate loss dur­ing the re­cov­ery.

Black wo­men work min­im­um wage jobs more than any oth­er demo­graph­ic, the re­port notes.

So as the re­cov­ery took hold, the volat­ile nature of their po­s­i­tions be­came even more un­stable as the mass of un­em­ployed work­ers all com­peted for entry level jobs. In 2009, as the eco­nomy began to add jobs, Black wo­men lost jobs. Two years later, in 2011, when most oth­er demo­graph­ics had seen sig­ni­fic­ant de­clines in their un­em­ploy­ment rates, Black wo­men’s un­em­ploy­ment jumped to its highest, 14.8 per­cent.

“You look at what type of jobs were lost,” says Melanie Camp­bell, who works with the Black Wo­men’s Roundtable, an or­gan­iz­a­tion fo­cused on policy. “Pub­lic sec­tor jobs were a big part of that. And you’re look­ing at ser­vice jobs and jobs in health­care. When it comes to re­cov­ery, those job aren’t com­ing back any­time soon. So on a state level you have so many jobs be­ing erased.”

This was the mar­ket Stack­house entered when she began her search. Be­fore she en­rolled in col­lege, Stack­house lost her Mary­land apart­ment. With little sav­ings, she had to move in with a re­l­at­ive in South­east, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the area where she’d grown up. Gentri­fic­a­tion had fi­nally marched across the Anacos­tia River, and now new res­id­en­tial com­plexes were crowding out Black res­id­ents who’d al­ways lived there. This posed a prob­lem for Stack­house, as most of the jobs she wanted lay across or near that river, about an hour away on a bus and trains.

Stack­house sent out ten re­sumes a day, she says. She ap­plied for of­fice jobs. She ap­plied to non-profits. She ap­plied for any­thing with a liv­able salary.

“It’s not just find­ing a job, it’s find­ing a job that will sus­tain you,” she says.

When an em­ploy­er called her back, she’d wear a black suit jack­et with a skirt cut just be­low the knee. She wor­ried the look was out of fash­ion, but at this point, not even able to pay her rent in full, she couldn’t af­ford to re­place it. She’d board the bus. Then the train. Sit for an in­ter­view. In­ev­it­ably, no one called her back.

She sent out more re­sumes, and lowered her salary ex­pect­a­tions. She also stopped in­clud­ing her ad­dress on her re­sume (she’d heard em­ploy­ers frown on cer­tain zip codes). “I didn’t have any ex­per­i­ence,” she says of why no one would hire her.

This spring, the na­tion’s total job­less rate fell to its low­est point in sev­en years, and wo­men’s over­all un­em­ploy­ment fell to a six-year low. However, in that same time, Black wo­men’s un­em­ploy­ment rose to nine per­cent, a slight up­tick.

More troub­ling is the fact that, com­pared to oth­er groups, for Black wo­men, edu­ca­tion makes the least dif­fer­ence in earn­ing po­ten­tial. A Black wo­man with a high school de­gree earns less than a White man who dropped out of school in the 9th grade, ac­cord­ing to the Black Wo­men in the United States Re­port. It would take two Black wo­men with bach­el­or’s de­grees to earn as much as one white man with an as­so­ci­ate’s de­gree. And even among col­lege edu­cated wo­men, Black wo­men earn the least. So while a de­gree can nev­er hurt, it doesn’t help Black wo­men like it would any­one else.

Stack­house’s in­ab­il­ity to find a job des­pite her new edu­ca­tion is a sign of prob­lems Black wo­men face across the coun­try, Camp­bell says. Camp­bell points to a re­cent art­icle in For­bes that lis­ted wo­men of col­or as the fast­est grow­ing group of en­tre­pren­eurs. It’s great news, Camp­bell says, but she won­ders if some wo­men “are do­ing that out of ne­ces­sity.”

Last week, Stack­house wandered the D.C. Home Expo and stopped at a booth. A wo­man asked if she wanted to buy a home. “No,” Stack­house told her, “but I need a job.”

“What do you do?” the wo­man asked.

“Well,” Stack­house said, “for a while I was a loan of­ficer.”

The wo­man said she might know of work, al­though it would be heav­ily com­mis­sion-based. Stack­house wrote down her num­ber. “It’s not just find­ing a job, it’s find­ing a job that will sus­tain you.” —Angie Stack­house

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