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William Crane, Special to The Skanner
Published: 27 August 2008

The current unemployment rate for African-Amercians stands at 9.3 percent in Washington State, which is a little over double the overall unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.
While this rate has continued to rise, little data exists on the county and city level to provide an accurate picture of the problem on the streets.
"Historically, the unemployment rate has always been higher for African Americans than other groups," said Roselund Jenkins, executive director for the Commission on African-American Affairs for Washington State.
This historical perspective is also reflected nationally. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent for African-Americans compared to an overall rate of 5.9 percent.
This trails other demographic groups with the unemployment rate being 7.4 percent for Hispanic, 5.1 percent for Whites and 4 percent for Asians.
While the Census Bureau provides statewide data for unemployment rates, local unemployment statistics are not available. "We don't have the data coming in," said Ivar Graudins, manager of Area Labor Market Information. "Our information only comes directly from the Census Bureau."
The reason for the lack of information is  that the Census Bureau does not have the resources to fund studies on that level nationwide. Without local agenices providing their own data, there is not enough data to gather statistics from.
"Anytime you slice up national data, its hard to come up with accurate data," said Desiree Phair. "Its just such a small statistical area."
Another reason for the unavailable data is that the collection of the data is not always  reliable. Many times those who are interviewed by the Census Bureau fail to identify themselves by race or ethnic background.
"For some there is a perception that these check boxes offend some people, especially those of mixed race," said Phair.
These problems collecting data related to the unemployment rate among minorities is also compounded by Initiative 200. The initiative, which eliminated racial and ethnic quotas in hiring, was supposed to provide for a more equal workplace and, in theory, a more equal employment and unemployment rate.
Local and state agencies now do not track data related to unemployment in part, because the intiative — which banned affirmative action in hiring practices — lessened the need for this information.
"Before I-200, at the minimum, there would have been better statistics," said Phair.
Initiative 200 is part of a national trend, with similar laws being passed in other states such as California. However, since their passage, the intended results of these intiatives have failed to materialized.
In an editorial, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, described Initiative 200 as having "misread the future badly. Now we have an urgency to educate the fastest-growing segments of our population. We need these young people and we cannot afford an education gap."
While the current unemployment picture is still murky, the situation is clear: African-Americans suffer from higher unemployment than other groups, which makes the need for a more solution more urgent.
While hiring practices such as affirmative action helped to balance historical inequalities, officials are putting their faith in education programs to help solve the disparities.
Seattle Job Initiatives was started in 1994 to help train minorities and lower income people in careers that will lead them to sustained employment and higher income levels. Thirty five percent of its participants are African Americans.
"The program is a path to a better paying wage, to put workers in good paying jobs with room for advancement" said David Kaz, director of policy and development for the Seattle Jobs Initiative.
The program partners with local community colleges in order to train its participants in industries which can provide long-term options. Many times when the economy is in an upswing, people can find employment, but it is often in the service industry or other areas prone to job loss.
"Those are the jobs that go when the economy goes south," said Kaz.
The Seattle Job Initiatives also teaches other valuable resources such as soft skills — skills that are not necessarily required for a specific position but which allow an employee to excel and advance in a job.

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