The Employment Dichotomy of Black Life

The Employment Dichotomy of Black Life
We can sit and dissect our lives and the things we do ad-nauseam. However, will it change anything? Will it cause us to sit up and take notice about what is going on in the lives of those around us? Will it give us a heart and mind to want to reach out and help the next person; or cause a desire within ourselves to fight for more? To fight for a better life? To not accept what things appear to be; but to reach toward something more? Something beyond what our eyes can see? Or, beyond what someone says we can have or cannot have?

In continuing in the series of articles on the Dichotomy of Black Life, let’s continue with Housing, moving on to Employment…


Let’s take a look at housing developments, or city housing projects. Many were designed to help working people rent at a reasonable price, while saving to buy a house of their own. However, along the way things went awry and housing developments or, the “projects” became associated with the poor, very, very low income individuals, the poor working class. There was an idea to revitalize housing by building tenements that would house many people at low or moderate rates. For many, this became a stronghold and the beginning of a generational struggle. For some, it perpetuated them to work harder. And for others, if they couldn’t make it out, they were going to make sure their children did. However, it was a lot easier said than done.

When many African Americans decided to move to the cities of America--leaving behind the rural areas, the need for affordable housing increased greatly. They found themselves living in sections where it was previously domiciled by the white working class. Many white people did not like the fact of black people moving into their neighborhoods. Many fought it. And, many made an exit by refusing to live and work with minorities.

Let us take a look at the infamous project development, The Cabrini-Green development, in Chicago. It is a classic case study of the division of classes and a Band-Aid approach to a growing need. As well as, a model for what can happen when extreme depravity and isolation takes place. The Cabrini development became a city within itself. It was home to some 15,000 families. On average, each family consisting of four. A city within a city, with nearly 60,000 people in residence.

As the development grew with the working poor and very low income families, so did the problems. Gang activity began it’s powerful reign and destruction in the early seventies, that would last for decades to come. It was estimated that 95% of its residents were on public assistance or government aid. As the problems grew in the development, the shorter the life expectancy became. Cabrini Green was a place where very few dreams came to life, but instead died or were never even born. Lives were cut short. Fear was the dish served daily; capitulated by the need for survival and self preservation. The Cabrini Green projects doled out its own law and justice, and thumbed it’s nose at city officials and law officers.

Is there much difference than what we see now? How many developments in America can attest to this same plight? How does a community get to this point? And, how do they get out of it? It is not enough to build affordable housing, and house a bunch of people as though they were cattle. Nor is it reasonable to turn the other way, as long as rent is being collected.

It is one thing to fight for equal housing rights, and another thing to fight for the quality of life. Who is to blame for the plight of the American ghetto? Who is responsible for the plight of all those living in substandard conditions, where neighborhoods are no longer communities; but a shell, with hollowed out buildings housing people who have given up? Perhaps one can argue that it is the residents who are at fault. Others might say it is the government. Perhaps both are correct.

As a people, we have a responsibility to ourselves, family and community. We have to take pride in where we live and have a desire to want to see change for the better. Yet, how can one take pride in their living conditions when all they see is destruction? When the spirit of defeat has developed in the minds and hearts of a people from one generation to the next? How can there possibly be any hope when you watch as your neighborhood continues to die? As stores continue to close; supermarkets are moved further away; buildings are left desolate; schools have become a battle ground; and employment has become a foreign word? Can anything at all be done to change the face of the American ghetto? Can anything be done to change the definition of “projects”?

For those few who have made it out of the ghetto, and have assimilated themselves into a life that is far removed, do we have the responsibility of helping those left behind? Of course, no one is penalizing anyone for the success they have obtained. Although, it sometimes feels that way. Yet, is there not a level of responsibility that one may feel to help someone else make it, as well? It is a thought.

Housing should not only be affordable, but it should be a place that is safe, a place that is taken well care of. These are not just projects; these are people’s homes and lives. There has been a such a tear in the fabric of humanity, that we can take a look at housing in America, and it will tell a story of separation, segregation, hopelessness and fear.


Chances are either you, or someone you know has been affected by the recent employment situation. Pinks slips are being handed out on a daily basis. People are losing jobs where they have worked for years. Yet the cost of living is on a steady rise. Did you ever think that you may be considered the working poor? Or, the possibility that you were just one paycheck away from unemployment or homelessness? This is what many people are facing each and everyday. Wondering if they will ever be able to have enough security for to maintain the lives that they are currently living.

Recent data by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that, for June 2008, there were 759,000 (9.8%) unemployed Black men over the age of twenty. That’s up from the 698,000 (9.4%) in May. For Black women, aged twenty and over, it fairs a little better: 687,000 (7.6%), down from May’s: 704,000 (7.8%).

Where ever you are in the mix, it is certain that many people are working from paycheck to paycheck, with the uncertainty that a job will exist when tomorrow comes.

Is there a distinction between what we do for a living and how we are as a people? Does ones employment define who they are and how far they will go in life? What about those people that have worked all their lives only to provide for their families, only to lose everything because a job has decided to downsize or send jobs oversea?

Next week: Employment concluded and Health and Healthcare…

You Should Also Read:
U.S. Census Bureau, Housing
U.S. Department of Labor

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