Sociologist Sandra Smith, an associate professor at the University of California (Berkeley), examines how urban poverty, social capital, and social networks play a role in joblessness among individuals from lower socioeconomic statuses.
In her recent book, Lone Pursuit: Distrust and Defensive Individualism Among the Black Poor, Smith highlights the role of interpersonal mistrust, largely fueled by the belief that high unemployment rates are a result of people's lack of personal responsibility.
Figures show that in nearly every level and workforce sector — from lower-skilled workers to those with degrees in professions deemed in high-need--blacks have higher unemployment rates.
At the start of the recession, for instance, the black unemployment rate was 7.9 percent, compared with 4.2 percent for whites and 5.8 percent for Latinos. By 2009, the jobless rate nearly doubled (12.7 percent) for blacks, according to federal figures. Those figures peaked at 16.7 percent by August 2011. Currently at 14 percent, unemployment rate for blacks is significantly higher than for other demographics.
Smith, who has a sociology doctorate from the University of Chicago, discusses with the Next America the findings of one of her studies that examined when low-skilled black and Latinos workers refer someone for a job, as well as what policies could improve unemployment rates in the black community. In the 2010 study, 68 percent of black jobholders decided against helping another black person get a job, compared with 30 percent of Latinos.