Carson is not the only African American employee who has seen a job vanish. Local, state, and federal cutbacks have slammed black workers hardest.
Records show unemployment, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse in the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent, according to Labor Department reports.
Church was just beginning to gain traction as an independent adult when he lost his job. “This would have been my third year,” said Church who lives with his mother and plans to study music this fall at Virginia Wesleyan College, where he will look for work during the school year.
“It was not just a job for me,” Church said. “I enjoyed providing food to children who would not otherwise eat. I was disheartened when they said the program would shut down. It weighs on you. I can say it did motivate me to go to college.
“I had kind of already taken a step toward independence and the job put me on track and helped me to learn how to budget my money,” Church continued. “It helped me to move toward an independent and responsible mindset. It is definitely something I will miss. It added a different quality to my life.”
Some sites, which have offered free meals for several years to low-income youngsters, are struggling to explain. Andrea Weathersby, president of the board at Fox Hill Mutual Homes, a co-op in Hampton, said she was voluntarily feeding youngsters alone until she heard about VKEF.
Weathersby said she provided free after-school snacks to about 20 neighborhood youngsters. The number of children increased and she moved her free food program to the community room. She added tutoring and after school care at some point. Then she heard about VKEF. Last year, the non-profit fed 128 youngsters each day during the summer at Fox Hill Mutual Homes, she said.
“The kids are devastated,” Weasthersby said. “For some that was their only meal. We provided breakfast, lunch, and a snack. We have a lot of single parents here. Some of them have lost their jobs. Some have a parent who has to go to work early.
“We turned no one away; everyone ate,” Weathersby said. “I think it’s terrible what’s happening. Kids knock on my door and ask for food. I give them Oodles of Noodles and juice.”
Coach Sheldon Johnson used to pass out free meals after football practice ended at Tidewater Park Elementary. Last summer VKEF provided 135 bag meals to youngsters enrolled in the sports program Johnson supervises.
“A lot of the kids depended on that,” Johnson said. “A lot of low-income children who played sports were getting the food and also food for children at home who did not have any food.
“Words cannot describe how much some of those children depended on the free meals,” Johnson continued. “Another coach told me some children have dropped by and asked for free meals but he told them they had cut the program.”
Before and after the recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector, according to a 2011 report from the Labor Center at the University of California-Berkeley.
A panel recently discussed stubbornly high black employment rates on a June 14 MSNBC Melissa Harris-Perry show. Trends suggest that the loss of public funds is the culprit. “Since 2008, 636,000 public sector jobs have disappeared from the economy and it’s a number that could soon be increased by 145,000,” Harris-Perry said.
While some experts say local, state, and federal cuts have increased black unemployment, other experts say it’s a case of more workers entering the labor force.
Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, says the sharp increase stems from more blacks entering the workforce, not from job losses or high jobless rates.
“More people wanting work is what really pushed up the unemployment rate for blacks. That’s a good thing,” Austin said. “You want people to participate in the labor force. But as the number of people looking for jobs has risen, they face a lukewarm job market that is struggling to create growth.”