U.S. recession pains minorities, but hope persists
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The recession has delivered a disproportionate blow to blacks and Hispanics, yet minorities may be more optimistic about the economy than most Americans and many feel they have earned a place at the corporate table.
A pair of surveys released this week carried some hopeful signs for minorities, who in recent years have seen African-Americans occupy top executive posts at an expanding roster of companies, including Time Warner Inc and Xerox Corp.
But in factories and the lower rungs of corporate America, workplace diversity often is a secondary priority, according to Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, a civil rights group holding its annual meeting this week in Chicago.
Blacks and Hispanics have suffered disproportionately in the recession because they often lack seniority, and they are heavily represented in the hard-hit retail, manufacturing and auto industries, Morial said in an interview.
The unemployment rate for U.S. blacks has hovered between 1-1/2 times and double that of whites for several years.
So as the national jobless rate has risen to 9.5 percent -- and is predicted to rise further -- the rate among blacks has jumped as high as 15 percent and the rate among Hispanics is 12.7 percent, while white unemployment reached 8.7 percent midway through 2009.
"Increasing joblessness will continue to plague the nation as a whole into 2010, and its effects will be disproportionately borne by blacks and Hispanics," wrote Algernon Austin of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group, in a report issued last week.
Perhaps surprisingly, a survey by banking giant Citigroup Inc found minorities had a more positive view of the economy than the majority of Americans. Of 100 blacks and Hispanics surveyed earning between $25,000 and $50,000 a year, about half believed the economy will improve over the next six months, compared to 38 percent of a larger national sample of workers.
They were not asked about their own prospects.
Blacks and Hispanics tend to have a more hopeful sense that hard times will abate, said Eric Eve, the bank's head of community relations.
Barack Obama's election as the nation's first black president has also instilled optimism among minorities, said the Economic Policy Institute's Christian Dorsey.
In a survey of 1,250 minority workers by the National Urban League, 77 percent said their companies valued the opinions of all employees, as compared to 38 percent with that view in a 2004 survey on the topic. And 62 percent thought all employees had an equal chance to advance, versus 44 percent in 2004.
"It's in the white-collar (jobs) that I think you've seen progress in the last 10 years where African-Americans have gained some seniority," Morial said.
However a majority said firms did a poor job of tracking diversity and executives were not vocal in support of it.
Progress for blacks has been most marked in the automotive industry, where they made up 14 percent of workers compared to 11 percent of the overall American work force.
"I'm concerned that the downturn in the automobile industry is going to affect diversity in those companies," Morial said.
Minorities may also regress as deficit-ridden government bureaucracies pare jobs that are a key source of employment.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)
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