By Julianne Malveaux
guam pacific daily news
“There’s always work at the post office,” my mama said after I’d melodramatically threatened to drop out of college in 1971. That was an adage heard by millions of African Americans in the 20th century. Indeed, postal jobs have long been a path to middle-class status for many black families and a haven for educated blacks who could not find jobs elsewhere.
No more. As we attempt to put a year of economic pain behind us, many public-sector workers are looking to the new year with dread, not hope.
With the U.S. Postal Service in the red, about 3,700 local post offices will be closed and about 100,000 employees will be cut. Blacks make up about 21 percent of that workforce.
Postal workers aren’t the only government or quasi-government employees on the chopping block. The Labor Department reports that state and local governments laid off at least 142,000 workers in 2011. At the federal level, Congress has threatened to freeze the pay of and lay off federal workers to finance the Social Security tax cut and extension of jobless insurance.
Black workers will bear the brunt of these sacrifices.
One in five black workers are public employees, compared with one in six non-black workers. Why? Blacks earn more and advance more quickly in the public sector. For these reasons, blacks are 30 percent more likely than whites to work in government, as teachers, nurses, social workers, administrators, bus drivers and deliverers of municipal services. Public service jobs are an important source of work, especially for black women, 23 percent of whom are public employees.
No wonder that as overall jobless rates dropped from 9 percent in October to 8.6 percent in November, the black unemployment rate actually rose: from 15.1 percent to 15.5 percent. Most states with a budget crisis are working it out by laying off workers, which means a disproportionate number of hard-working blacks.
This pain hardly matters to budget hawks who apparently don’t understand that they are imperiling economic recovery by laying off government workers in order to balance budgets.
It’s bad enough that government job cuts will worsen unemployment. It’s even worse that the black middle class — which took decades to get there — will now shrink because of ill-timed and ill-advised slashing.
Hardly a reason to enter the new year in good cheer.
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.