Job market a bust for many

ANOTHER Washington think tank is raising alarm about the low number of young black males who hold jobs.

Barely more than half of young black men with no more than a high school diploma held a job in 1999, compared with about two-thirds 20 years earlier, according to a report put out this month by the liberal, Washington-based Center for Law and Social Policy.


"Boom Times A Bust: Declining Employment Among Less Educated Young Men" shows that the employment rate for young black men was far worse than that for whites and Hispanics with similar minimal education. But it shows that the rate for all three groups declined during a two-decade period of economic expansion.

The report closely follows the findings of a Brookings Institution study last year, "Left Behind in the Labor Market: Recent Employment Trends Among Young Black Men," and acknowledges the contributions of the Brookings authors.


In an op-ed page piece in The Sun on the Brookings study last year, Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said that in Baltimore, less than 40 percent of young black men with limited education had jobs.

"Very low and declining employment rates for young less-educated men are worrisome because of the effects on individual and family income and well-being," the new report states. "Disengagement from the workforce for any period of time reduces future earnings potential and limits the ability to gain skills critical to job retention and advancement."

The report also highlights the nearly $2-an-hour decline in real wages for men ages 18 to 24 with no more than a high school diploma between 1979 and 1999.

And it contrasts the employment situation of minimally educated young men of all races with those of women, noting that welfare-to-work and other programs helped increase employment among women without a high school diploma 6 percent, and by single mothers more than 10 percent, in the 1990s.

"We're not trying to say attention on single moms was misplaced," said Elise Richer, lead author of the report. "They do need help. The fact is there's this other group of young men that has not had much policy attention paid to them."

The report echoes the Brookings study in calling for changes in the way child support payments are collected and better job assistance for former prisoners, both of which it said could boost employment.

It also calls for a range of other policies, from an increase in the minimum wage to expanded transitional jobs and training programs and better high school education.

Karen Sitnick, director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, said the city is looking at starting a transitional jobs program for former offenders. And while acknowledging the "report is right" in its analysis of the dimensions of the problem, Sitnick said the city has begun addressing the situation with the help of a five-year, $44 million federal grant.


In three years, the program, which supports Youth Opportunity centers on the east and west sides, has placed more than 800 people 21 and younger in jobs or job-training programs and has helped more than 500 to earn high school diplomas or GEDs or to begin college, she said.

"I don't think you can ever say you have enough resources to meet the need," she said. "But we continue to do better."

A good week for the city in federal funds category

Speaking of federal money, last week was a good one for Baltimore.

First, Mayor Martin O'Malley held a news conference to announce that the feds had approved a $21 million loan for the east-side revitalization effort centered around a biotech park. Two days later, the mayor held an event to announce that the city was receiving $27 million in Head Start funds and up to $36 million to rebuild the sprawling Uplands Apartments site in West Baltimore.

"It's not every day you can say by 10 o'clock there's an additional $63 million in the bank," the mayor crowed after the second event.


So how does he feel President Bush is treating the city these days?

"The libertarian president is treating Baltimore and other major cities very shabbily," said O'Malley, explaining that Bush didn't deserve to be called a Republican because the GOP has traditionally stood for strong defense and fiscal responsibility.

His principal beef was his long-standing one about the federal government's failure to adequately support local efforts on Homeland Security - of $24 million recently funneled through the state, the city was getting just $2 million, he said. He also criticized Bush for tax cuts that he said benefited the rich at the expense of programs to aid the poor.

"He's done more to hurt our capacity to protect our city in a few short years than Reagan had done in eight years," the mayor said.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore, who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and attended the second event, was less caustic.

"Fair, not great," was the Democrat's assessment of Bush's treatment of the city. "A lot of these funds are funds they have to allocate by law. ... To my knowledge, Bush has no urban policy."