Despite ‘recovery,’ black women struggle to cope with job losses

Courtland Milloy
Columnist December 11, 2011

After the health-care company where Linda Evans worked relocated outside the Washington area, she spent two years searching for another job. But nothing panned out.

“I felt like a loser,” said Evans, who lives in the District.

No doubt the nation’s economic woes have made a lot of people feel that way. But women— especially black women like Evans — were among the hardest hit. And the so-called recovery has been even worse for them.

According to a recent study by the National Women’s Law Center, black women have lost more jobs during the recovery — 258,000 — than they did during the recession — 233,000. Put another way, black women represented 12.5 percent of all women workers in June 2009. But between then and this June, black women lost 42.2 percent of jobs lost by women overall.

“For women as a whole, and particularly black women, cuts in public sector employment have been devastating,” said Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington. “When it comes to job growth in the private sector, women are also doing less well than men. Whether employers feel it is more important to put men back to work first, we just can’t say at this point.”

Evans, who is in her 50s, didn’t let discouragement keep her down. Out of the pain came an epiphany: Maybe it was time to forget about getting a job like the one she had, and use some long-neglected talents to reinvent herself.

“I remembered how much I liked making jewelry, singing and writing songs,” she said. “I began feeling hopeful that somehow I was going to make it.”

While the nation’s overall unemployment rate declined from 9.0 to 8.6 last month, the unemployment rate for black women increased from 12.6 to 12.9, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Worse, more than 150,000 black women gave up looking for work last month. Counted out of the job market, they were categorized as simply “discouraged workers.”

In a sad irony, the Obama administration’s first cheery news about a drop in the nation’s unemployment rate had resulted largely from the broken spirits of black women.

“The jobs report was like an onion: Peel back the layers and you start crying,” said Donna Addkison, president and chief executive of Wider Opportunities for Women.

According to a recent study by WOW, about 42 percent of women — including 62 percent of African American women and 66 percent of Hispanic women — do not have enough income to pay for basic household expenses.

“We’re not just talking about households moving from crisis to catastrophe,” Addkison said. “The deprivation experienced by children in these homes means the loss of jobs and income will have a multi-generational ripple effect.”

To his credit, however, President Obama recently proposed a jobs bill that would surely help a lot of women. It includes funds for rehiring teachers and first responders, jobs for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, jobs repairing bridges, roads and schools, jobs refurbishing thousands of foreclosed homes and businesses, and job training for low-income youths and adults.

Unfortunately, only bits and pieces of the bill have won congressional support.

Evans wasn’t about to sit around and wait for Congress to act.

“I was raised with a good work ethic and have always had one kind of job or another since I was 14,” she said. “When I lost my job as a hospice-care worker, it felt terrible. I didn’t want to be on unemployment or food stamps. I always saw myself as a giver and not a taker.”

So she took up the songwriting that she never had time for while doing hospice care, pulled together some musician friends and helped form a 10-piece group called Copper Rose and Bones.

And there they were Saturday night, performing at the B Spot juice and music bar at 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE. “Stay strong, carry on,” Evans sang. “Hold on to your dreams.”

With donations from the audience, along with the sale of her custom-made feather earrings, Evans felt confident that she’d make ends meet — at least for the remainder of the month.

“It’s still a struggle but I’m pushing on,” Evans said, sounding anything but dis­couraged.

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