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The Real Stories Behind the Unemployment Story

An article in The Guardian examines the full and complex story behind the nation’s jobless numbers as it plays out in Kansas City. LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers are highlighted as a partial solution to egregious rates of unemployment among African Americans, helping people to become “net cash positive” and to build plans that are “inspiring to them,” says LISC CEO Maurice A. Jones.  

The excerpt below is from:
The truth about black unemployment in America
By Caleb Gayle, The Guardian

Kansas City is booming. Employers and investors have poured into the midwestern city since the recession. At least $1bn has gone into its sparkling new downtown, revitalized arts district and shiny new condos. So why is Sly James, its highly regarded outgoing mayor, so unhappy?

James, who steps down in July 2019, is leaving office with a sense of disappointment that despite Kansas City’s obvious accomplishments, the city’s recovery has left one large section of society behind: African Americans.

About 30% of Kansas City’s population is black. Every month, seemingly, Donald Trump uses Twitter to trumpet how well black people have done under his presidency. Nationwide African American unemployment is now 6.5%, down from a peak of 16.8% at the height of the recession.

But national numbers in a country as big as the US can be misleading. For many African Americans in the Kansas City area, the spoils of a roaring recovery have passed them by.

“The impact of all things racial has left neighborhoods divided and segregated and that leads to a perpetuation of things like poverty and lack of opportunity,” says James, adding he would “have to disagree [with anyone] who says that the real African American unemployment situation is 5.9%”.

Kansas City may boast an unemployment rate of 3.6%. But take the city’s Blue Hills neighbourhood. Blue Hills is 91% African American and the unemployment rate is 17%. Neighbouring Ivanhoe is 86% African American and the unemployment rate is even higher, at 26%.

James is not alone in his assessment of his city. A loud chorus of individuals looks skeptically at the numbers Trump so proudly presents. Decreasing unemployment figures would usually signal that things are going well. But when you are one of the 14.3% of black people paid a poverty wage, compared with the 8.3% of white people who receive a poverty wage, it doesn’t feel like it.

As with the rest of the United States’ recovery from the 2008 recession, Kansas City’s comeback still carries the scars of the structural and intentional racism of its not-so-distant past.

Carl, who did not want his last name published, is 57 years old and has big dreams: “I want to save up, put something aside for a proper burial, pay off my house, keep up with my car payments and pay that off. Typical American dream stuff,” he says. But his access to the American dream had to be deferred.

Carl has been unemployed for nearly a year, collecting social security insurance after a hip replacement following an incident on his full-time construction job.

Carl may be unemployed but he still works hard. The white blotches of his graying hair nearly match the white of his tightly starched button-down shirt and well-shined, tuxedo shoes. Most telling are the smoothed calluses on his fingertips; one of his many jobs is playing the bass guitar for his local church.

“One Sunday an announcement was made at the church about job workshops,” he says. He hustled, calling the numbers listed on the pamphlets left on the back of church tables. “After doing that program, I heard about the financial opportunity centers.”

These financial opportunity centers (FOCs) are a pillar program of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), where, according to Trese Booze, who heads these FOCs in Kansas City, coaches help “overlooked talent to prepare them for quality, living-wage jobs, while becoming resilient to financial shock”.

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