Black men now suffer the highest unemployment rate in the American job market, falling behind black women for the first time in the 1980s. In a report titled ``Black Men in the Labor Market,'' economists Lynn E. Browne and Katharine L. Bradbury of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston cite two basic reasons for the weakening job status of black men:
Sluggish growth in employment opportunities for all men, coupled with a rapid increase in the number of black men of working age with no positions awaiting them. At the same time, jobs in the service industry, which traditionally employs more women, are increasing.
The inability of black men to fully penetrate higher-wage occupations, although some progress has been made. They are not promoted as fast as whites, nor are they hired in growth areas such as engineering, science, the health professions, and sales.
``The labor market difficulties of black men have serious implications for the income and well-being of black families,'' the economists say. ``The median income for black families declined from 61 percent of the white family median in 1969 to 56 percent in 1984.''
The effect of high unemployment (16.4 percent) among black men (compared to 6.4 percent for white males) has led to a widening of the gap in income between black and white families, and an increase in the number of black children growing up in poverty.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported recently that April unemployment among blacks as a whole rose from 14.7 percent to 14.8 percent, while the total rate for whites dropped from 6.1 to 6.0 percent.
Although black men appear less employable than black women, black men who are employed hold higher paying jobs, including top level positions, than females. The median income in 1984 for black men was $16,943, compared with that of white men at $24,826. Both surpass the median income of white women -- at $15,474 -- and black women's income trails at $14,036.
What this means is that black families headed by males are less likely to live at poverty levels than those headed by single female parents, according to the report, which appeared in the March/April edition of the New England Economic Review of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.