Chicago Public Schools have laid off thousands of employees and teachers in the latest rounds of a massive restructuring described as “the largest shakeup ever attempted in one year by a major urban school district.” The restructuring has closed 50 schools and affected an estimated 46,000 children—the overwhelming majority of whom were Black.
Black teachers have also been hit hardest by the restructuring. The layoffs in the Chicago schools have followed similar public sector layoffs nationwide and across Chicago—fueling “a shrinking Black middle class” in a city that has been hit hard by unemployment, poverty, foreclosures and gun violence.
Only 29 percent of the teaching force in Chicago is African American, compared to 45 percent in 1995, according to the Chicago Teachers Union. At least “43 percent of those [teachers] laid off,” have been Black according to a 2011 analysis of Illinois State Board of Education data reported by In These Times.
The situation in Chicago reflects a “nationwide epidemic of school closings and teacher firings” that has disproportionately affected Black teachers from Philadelphia to Detroit to Los Angeles. It is part of a much larger trend of “downsizing” public sector jobs that has “been singularly harmful to middle-class blacks,” reported the New York Times. That’s because about one in five African-Americans work in government jobs, according to the Department of Labor.
“African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers,” reported the New York Times in a front-page November 2011 article. “The jobs have long been regarded as respectable, stable work for college graduates, allowing many to buy homes, send children to private colleges and achieve other markers of middle-class life that were otherwise closed to them.”
“More than 177,000 Blacks [lost] jobs in the public sector” from 2007 to 2012, according to a May 2012 report by the Economic Policy Institute. The report found the continuing high rate of black unemployment is partly a result of a “sizable and continuing drop in the number of African-Americans employed by state and local governments,” reported TheGrio.com. The August 2013 unemployment rate among Blacks is estimated at 13 percent. The national unemployment rate is almost half that—at about 7 percent.
“This is a very dire situation,” Valerie Rawlston Wilson, an economist with the National Urban League Policy Institute, told the Chicago Tribune. “Even for blacks who have college degrees, we’ve seen a doubling of their unemployment (rate) between 2007 and 2010.”