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Aug 20th

Poor economy turns tables on African Americans

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Leroy Venzen was on top of the world. The St. Thomas native had worked as a janitor during his first eight months after moving to Washington, D.C., in November 1995. Within three years he had landed a consulting job with Bell Atlantic, earning $100,000 a year... Leroy Venzen was on top of the world. The St. Thomas native had worked as a janitor during his first eight months after moving to Washington, D.C., in November 1995. Within three years he had landed a consulting job with Bell Atlantic, earning $100,000 a year—five times the average per capita income.

Life was good and seemed to be getting better. At age 25, he wore silk ties, expensive shoes and tailored suits. He walked through the corporate offices shoulder to shoulder with top executives and had his pick of women. Eating at posh restaurants, he gained more than 60 pounds. He bought a house and tithed $62,000 to his church.

"In my family, I was like the rising star, if you will," Venzen, now 28, recalls in his thick Virgin Islands accent. "I felt good. I felt privileged. Everything career-wise was falling into place. I was getting the offers. I was getting the monies. I was very influential and got a lot of access to things because of my success, had a lot of friends and a lot of parties."

It was the economic realities of America that hit Venzen hard - very hard. In the spring of 2000, he switched from the consulting position with Bell Atlantic to a full-time job, complete with stocks and benefits, with Tri-Com Computer Services making $85,000 as an information technology recruiter. When the perks were included, he figured that his actual package exceeded his previous six-figure income. But all of that went by the wayside when Venzen lost his job shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when Tri-Com downsized and was acquired by TNMG Marketing.
When a comparable job failed to materialize, be began serving tables at Outback Steakhouse in Bowie, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Venzen now makes close to $25,000, a quarter of what he had earned at Bell Atlantic.

"I hate it now. Essentially crossing over to the new year, I can’t believe a whole year has passed," he says. "Now, it’s really getting under my skin."
His skin may be part of the problem. Venzen is one of more than 8.6 million Americans who were unemployed as of December, 1.85 million of whom are Black, according to the U. S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the overall unemployment rate is 6 percent, unemployment for Blacks is almost double that at 11.5 percent, up 5 percent over the previous month.

Overall, as jobs are lost, new jobs are not being generated. It’s like an extreme game of musical chairs, says Bill Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality, a Washington-based research institution that focuses on social and economic issues.

"Imagine there’s a keeper on the line of chairs," he says. "The idea is that the rule of the line is that White folks get to sit down first. So, it’s really employer preference. There are enough employers that it slows down the job search for African Americans. We have to do more interviews to land a job than White folks do, which means we’re unemployed for a longer period of time, which gets us the higher unemployment rate."

President Bush has proposed a $600 billion economic stimulus package that he says will create jobs from the top down, in part, by giving tax breaks to investors. Democrats, who counter that the Republican plan favors the rich, have proposed to inject $136 billion into the economy, focused on job creation through tax rebates, aid to states, and extended unemployment benefits.

Venzen, who chose not to apply for unemployment benefits, is determined to get back to the top. He waits tables at night because it allows him flexibility to search for a better-paying job during the day. Venzen has sent out more than 300 resumes over 17 months in search of another corporate recruiting job. He has received fewer than 10 responses.

"The market has b
 

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