September 1, 2014

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Forum discusses racial disparity in wealth, jobs

LORAIN — With their generation facing astronomical unemployment rates and income gaps as well as high crime and poverty, a panel of mostly black people in their 20s on Thursday discussed the challenges facing them.

The Young Minds Speaking Out to Make a Change roundtable discussion was sponsored by the Lorain Urban Minority Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Outreach Program as part of Black History Month at the group’s headquarters, 2314 Kelly Place.

Panelists said children rely on their parents for guidance, but many children in their neighborhoods come from single-parent or broken homes.

“In my community, I notice no one wants to be a leader. Nobody,” said Maurice Carroll, a 26-year-old father of two. “Everyone wants to be a follower.”

Speakers said parental neglect, media images that glorify wealth and violence, and a lack of positive role models leads to a cycle of ignorance, poverty, violence and crime.

“It’s hard on a parent because not only are you trying to scare somebody else straight, but you have to stay straight at all times,” said Cara Hisle, a 25-year-old mother of two. “You have so much negativity grabbing at the child every day.”

Speakers said when parents can’t, or won’t, take responsibility, coaches, neighbors or teachers need to step in. They said action must be taken individually and collectively.

“We can have 50 more people on this panel, but if we don’t do anything about it, it’s pointless,” said Kendra Woodall, a 21-year-old sales associate and college student. “We need to stop talking about it and start being about it.”

Panelists said racism plays a part in the high black unemployment rate, but race can’t be used as a crutch or excuse for joblessness. They said many young black people don’t know how to dress for or act appropriately at job interviews.

They said employers need to give blacks with felony records a second chance to reduce recidivism. About 3.1 percent of black men in the U.S. were in federal or state prisons in 2010 compared with 0.5 percent of white men, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Jeffrey Dudley, the lone middle-aged panelist at 46, said he is a former Vice Lord who served 14 years in prison. Since being released, Dudley said he started a company that hires ex-convicts.

“That same energy that it took them to get to prison is what they’ve got to use to look for a job and stay out of prison,” he said. “There ain’t no shortcuts in life.”

While calling for greater personal responsibility, panelists acknowledged there is less educational opportunity for those seeking to better themselves. Congress in December reduced eligibility for Pell Grants, the federal taxpayer grants of up to $5,550 for poor students.

Under the new law, designed to save $11 billion over 10 years, the highest income level to receive the maximum grant amount drops from $30,000 to $23,000 and grant use limits drop from 18 semesters to 12 semesters.

Racial disparities

Thursday’s roundtable discussion about the challenges faced by young black people comes at a time of historically high black unemployment and low wealth.

  • Black unemployment was at 16.6 percent in the third quarter compared with the 9.1 percent national unemployment rate.
  • Ohio had a black unemployment rate of 20.3 percent, the fifth-highest in the nation. The overall state unemployment rate was 9.1 percent.
  • The wealth gap was the largest since the government began compiling data in 1986 and about twice as big as before the Great Recession, which officially ended in June 2009.
  • About 35 percent of black households had zero or negative net worth compared with 15 percent of white households.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.