Black unemployment in the UK higher than the US

Black unemployment in the UK has been higher in the last three recessions.

It recently emerged that 30.7 per cent of the UK's young black males are unemployed, a significant finding [the overall rate of unemployment is 8.4 per cent]. But how does the problem here compare with the US? The answer is that we fare worse on every count. A paper due to be presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference today shows that in the last three recessions, unemployment among black British men was up to 15 per cent higher than among those in the US.

British black male unemployment reached 24 per cent in the early 1980s recession, 28 per cent in the early 1990s and 18 per cent in 2011. By contrast, the figures for the US were 17 per cent, 13 per cent and 15 per cent. Black women in Britain are also more likely to be unemployed than those in the US. Unemployment for black women in Britain in the three recessions peaked at 25 per cent, 26 per cent and 17 per cent, compared with 20 per cent, 12 per cent and 13 per cent in the US.

Professor Yaojun Li, of the University of Manchester, who analysed responses from 4.7 million people, will tell the conference:

Overall, there is greater ethnic inequality in Britain than in the USA for both sexes.

This gives a fairly strong indication that the flexible labour market policies adopted in Britain in the last few decades did not protect the minority ethnic groups against the repercussions of recessions.

He suggests that the US's use of affirmative action and its federal procurement policy, which requires institutions to have staff representative of the population, explains its lower levels of black unemployment. In total, one in 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US.

I recently noted that George Osborne's plans will reduce the public sector workforce to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1999. A total of 730,000 posts will be cut between 2011 and 2017. Li suggests that this could exacerbate the problem:

As a large proportion of the disadvantaged group, particularly black people, tend to find employment in the public sector, if they can find a job at all, the current coalition government’s stringency plan to cut public sector employment is most likely to hit the most vulnerable groups even harder.

It's yet more evidence that the coalition's decision to rely so heavily on spending cuts to reduce the deficit will create levels of inequality unheard of in modern times.

 

One 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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