It Happens By Linda Burnham Perhaps we don't need the Wall Street Journal to confirm what we already know: that corporate America's discriminatory treatment of African Americans runs astoundingly deep. Still, it's nice to have the facts in hand. WSJ conducted a computer analysis of the EEOC reports of 35,242 companies which employ 40 million workers -- more than a third of the total U.S. workforce. Their findings were reported in a lengthy article in the September 15, 1993 edition of the paper. The results of the analysis were summarized as follows: "Blacks were the only racial group to suffer a net job loss during the 1990-91 economic downturn, at the companies reporting to the Equal Economic Opportunity Commission. Whites, Hispanics and Asians, meanwhile, gained thousands of jobs...." There are certain aphorisms in the field of race relations that are so overused, they are well past the point of clich‚ It's boring to read them and usually a sign of laziness to use them. "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line," is one of them; "a recession in white America means a depression for Blacks" is another; and "last hired, first fired" is yet another. But the obvious reason that these phrases won't go away, despite being undeniable shopworn, is that reality consistently confirms their accuracy. The latest recession, like those before it, did exacerbate the deterioration in African American job prospects. The WSJ analysis contains some revealing, and damning, data: While Blacks at the companies surveyed suffered a net loss of 59,479 jobs, all other groups gained, whites by 71,144, Asians by 55,104, and Latinos by 60,040. Black job loss resulted from both losing a disproportionately high share of jobs that were cut and gaining a disproportionately low share of new positions added. Can't win for losing, as it were. While businesses added 53,548 new service workers and 63,000 new sales jobs, African Americans experienced a net loss of jobs in both service and sales, the only group to do so. In Florida, Blacks lost jobs at five times the rate of the overall workforce reduction. In Illinois Blacks lost 43.4 percent of the jobs while representing 13.4 percent of the state's workers. There's more, much more But you probably get the drift. THE COMPANIES SHRUG WSJ asked many of the companies surveyed why Black job loss was so disproportionate. The answers were on a par with "shit happens." According to corporate spokesmen, Black job loss was not the result of discrimination in hiring and layoffs, but rather the unintended result of decisions to restructure, relocate and downsize in a recessionary economy -- decisions that were based not on the color line, but on the bottom line of corporate profits. Sears closed down inner city distribution centers and moved to the suburbs in order to take advantage of more convenient trucking routes. General Electric stopped production in two plants, one of which happened to be 39 percent Black, the other 80 percent. WSJ summarizes the impact of such decisions in a model of understatement: "Corporations' continuing decisions to abandon inner-city offices, factories or franchise outlets didn't help Blacks, either." It would be too much, I guess, to expect a straightforward headline admitting "Corporate Policies Sabotage Black Job Prospects." For those of us who are not prepared to accept the corporate "shit happens" shrug, there are at least two different ways to absorb this data. First, we may take it as a confirmation that race if a key factor in the decisions businesses make about restructuring and relocating, whether it is addressed explicitly or not. It really just overtaxes our credulity to believe that all those moves from inner city to suburb and from Philly to Phoenix were not motivated by a desire to lighten up the labor force. A social scientist has estimated that white residential flight is triggered when a neighborhood becomes 8 percent Black. It is not at all far-fetched to assume that there is also some corporate trigger point for the economic abandonment of plants and offices with substantial numbers of Black workers. Just as fleeing homeowners will insist that their only concern is with property values, so too will businesses euphemistically render their flight to the burbs as a balance sheet relocation decision. In both cases, race is the unuttered foreground consideration. A second, equally valid, way to look at the data is this: intent to discriminate is irrelevant. WSJ's data conclusively show conclusively that U.S. corporations manage to discriminate quite handily, despite whatever they imagine to be their best intentions. And wasn't this the point of affirmative action? Business as usual means discrimination as usual. Racial inequality is so structured into the U.S. workforce that unless special measures are taken to minimize its effects, it will automatically ramify. Yet affirmative action in hiring and promotion remains an matter of bitter contention and affirmative action in layoffs is near heresy. Additionally, WSJ's data directly contradict the fashionable notion that Blacks suffer not from discrimination, but from their own exaggerated psychological sense of victimization. Excuse me, but a layoff rate that is five times that of the overall workforce, as it was in Florida, is hardly a psychological problem. A related point: We have heard a lot during these past years about the pervasive inner city culture of poverty, which allegedly prevents African Americans from developing a stable relationship to the job market. Whose cultural problem is it when Blacks jobs are eliminated even in sales and service, traditionally the bottom end of the job market? Discrimination that disproportionately affects Blacks is hidden in reporting to the EEOC which combines statistics for Blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans. Companies can (and do) claim that minority hiring is up, while African Americans are in reality shouldering an unfair share of the recession's hardships. No, we might not have needed the Wall Street Journal to raise all these issues anew. But then, when the voice of corporate America speaks, sometimes it's worth listening. Linda Burnham is an editor of CrossRoads and director of the Women of Color Resource Center. This article originally appeared in Race File, a publication of the Applied Research Center. This new column, "Fight the Power," will appear periodically in upcoming issues of CrossRoads.