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EMPLOYMENT : Armed Forces Cuts Expected to Dim Jobs Outlook of Blacks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The move to cut the size of America’s armed forces after the end of the Cold War is expected to narrow job opportunities sharply for a segment of American society that can least afford it: the nation’s black youths.

Although blacks make up only about 12% of the nation’s population, they account for 20% of the armed forces and for 29% of the troops in the Army--the branch of the armed services that is likely to suffer most under the five-year cutback plan now on the books.

THE IMPACT: As a result, a new analysis compiled for the Army predicts, the 25% reduction in active-duty military forces now being planned is likely to eliminate the jobs of about 110,000 blacks--a far greater proportional impact than on any other racial or ethnic group.

Moreover, Col. Michael Shane, a senior military fellow at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies when the study was done earlier this year, warns that the job losses will be coming at a time when the economy is still too weak to provide alternative opportunities.

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“There will be a specific impact on black America,” Shane says.

The reality has been a shock for black leaders. Although some had been critical because so many blacks were sent to fight in the Persian Gulf War, the fact is that the armed forces have long served as a haven for black youths, offering employment and job training.

Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams says Pentagon policy-makers have not issued specific guidelines to the military to lessen the impact of the proposed shrinkage on minorities. He says they hope to accomplish as much as possible by attrition.

Still, Williams concedes that the services will probably have to issue some pink slips as the reductions take effect. “As we do that,” he says, “we’re going to want to make sure we don’t upset the excellent record the military has in providing job opportunities (for blacks).”

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According to Shane’s calculations, the total number of active-duty forces will decline from 2.1 million to about 1.58 million by fiscal year 1995-1996. If the cuts were made proportionally, about 20% of those released would be black--or an estimated 100,000 in all.

But Shane says the decline in the number of blacks serving in the military is likely to be slightly higher because the Army--the most popular branch among blacks--is expected to be cut by about 28.5%. That means another 10,000 black soldiers would be trimmed from the rolls.

Although the study did not include them, Shane estimates that, if the Army cuts are spread equally among all minority groups, about 8,900 Latinos and an estimated 2,900 Asians and Pacific Islanders would lose their jobs.

THE OUTLOOK: Virtually all sides agree that despite the anemic economic recovery so far the brunt of the burden for providing a “safety net” for mustered-out black servicemen and servicewomen will have to fall on private industry, not the government.

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Linda White, director of the Army Career and Alumni Placement Program, has begun a major campaign to persuade business to seek out and hire blacks who are forced out of the military as a result of the cutbacks.

“Don’t leave the soldiers on the unemployment lines,” White says. And “don’t leave them on the streets, which is even worse . . . . Take care of them with jobs, as the Army has done.”

“The long-term solution to this problem doesn’t lie with the Department of Defense,” Shane says. “The long-term solution lies with the civilian sector. There has to be something at the other end (of a military career) to take up the slack.”

Meanwhile, John Clendenin, a manager with Xerox Corp., points out that the real problem for companies is not the unemployed veteran, but the black youths who never joined the armed forces and have no job skills or training.

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“That’s where the real problem is, because they’re not the cream of our youth,” Clendenin says.

Times staff writer Melissa Healy in Washington contributed to this story.


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