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Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Published: 03 May 2006

The battle continues to rage over whether illegal immigrants are the major cause of double-digit joblessness among poor, unskilled young Black males.

The battle lines are so tight and impassioned that Black anti-immigration activists staged a march for jobs for American-born Blacks on April 28 in Los Angeles — a direct counter to the mass action three days later by some immigrant rights groups.

According to federal Labor Department reports, nearly 40 percent of young Black males are unemployed. Despite the Bush administration's boast that its tax cuts and economic policies have resulted in the creation of more than 100,000 new jobs, Black unemployment still remains the highest of any group in America. Black male unemployment for the past decade has been nearly double that of White males.

But several years before the immigration combatants squared off, then-University of Wisconsin graduate researcher Devah Pager pointed the finger in another direction — one that makes most employers squirm — the persistent and deep racial discrimination in the workplace. Pager found that Black men without a criminal record are less likely to find a job than White men with criminal records.

Dumping the blame for the chronic job crisis of young, poor,  Black men on illegal immigration stokes the passions and hysteria of immigration reform opponents, but it also lets employers off the hook for discrimination. And it's easy to see how that could happen. The mountain of federal and state anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action programs and successful employment discrimination lawsuits gives the public the impression that job discrimination is a relic of a shameful and bigoted racial past.

But that isn't the case, and Pager's study is hardly isolated proof of that. Countless research studies, the Urban League's annual State of Black America report and a 2005 Human Rights Watch report reveal that employers have devised endless dodges to evade anti-discrimination laws.

In a seven-month comprehensive university study of the hiring practices of hundreds of Chicago area employers, undertaken a few years before Pager's graduate study, many top company officials when interviewed said they would not hire Blacks. When asked to assess the work ethic of White, Black and Latino employees by race, nearly 40 percent of the employers ranked Blacks dead last.

Theemployersroutinely described Blacks as "unskilled," "uneducated," "illiterate." "dishonest," "lacked initiative," "unmotivated," "involved with gangs and drugs," "did not understand work," "unstable," "lacked charm," "had no family values" and were "poor role models."

The consensus among these employers was that Blacks brought their alleged pathologies to the workplace and were to be avoided at all costs. White employers alone didn't express these bigoted and ignorant views — the researchers found that Black business owners shared many of the same negative attitudes.

Other surveys have found that a substantial number of non-White business owners also refuse to hire Blacks. Their bias effectively closed out another area of employment to thousands of Blacks, solely based on their color.

This only tells part of the sorry job picture for many poor Blacks. The Congressional Black Caucus reports that at least half of all unemployed Black workers have been out of work nearly a year or more. Many more have given up looking for work. The Census does not count them among the unemployed.

The dreary job picture for the unskilled and marginally skilled urban poor, especially the Black poor, is compounded by the racially skewed attitudes of small and large employers. Even if there was not a single illegal immigrant in America, that attitude ensures that Black job seekers would still be just as poor and unemployed.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a columnist for www.blacknews.com.

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