In Milwaukee, 34 percent of black men unemployed

Nationwide, African American unemployment stands at around 16 percent, significantly higher than the overall national average. It's also at a level similar to those in the Depression-era.

In looking at the nationwide data on African American unemployment, one city in particular stands out: Milwaukee, where unemployment for African American men is 34 percent.

CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports that Wisconsin's largest city is struggling to confront the issue.

African-American unemployment at 16 percent
Milwaukee's Social Development Commission
Young Men of Color CollegeBoard Initiative

There are, however, exceptions to the rule, like 22-year old Darius Smith, who has something he hasn't had in a long time -- a steady job.

"I come to work every day, learn new things every day. I'm getting pretty good actually," Smith says.

It didn't always feel that way. He graduated from high school four years ago, but could not find a full time job. Now he has two sons to support.

"Very few (places I applied) called me back, and if they did it was a qualification (issue.) I didnt fit because I didn't have the experience," Smith says.

Smith is part of a staggering problem. The city of Milwaukee lost 56,000 jobs in the recession, many in manufacturing, which used to provide entry-level employment.

Just 40 years ago, 8 out of 10 black men were employed. Most found jobs in manufacturing, where a kid coming out of high school used to be able to earn a decent wage and support a family, but not anymore.

Now, Milwaukee has begun a new program which matches high school drop-outs, low-skilled workers, even some ex-felons, with businesses willing to train them. For six months, men like Darius Smith are paid to learn carpentry or electrical installation skills.

"If we provide a little bit of opportunity for them it spreads," says contractor Troy Reese.

Reese says he was eager to sign up to be a trainer and has taken on some tough cases.

"We've had people that are 12 years out of prison, (and) their first job is our job. So we really have to balance out the needs of each applicant," Reese says.

In the five months since the program started, 124 trainees have signed up. Of that group, 88 are now in transitional jobs and six have landed full-time jobs. None have dropped out.

Darius Smith is proud of his work and of the example he's setting for his two young sons, Jaylen and Julian.

"They know I'm happy. They know that caddy comes home at a certain time every day from work," Smith says.

This is just one program for a few dozen black men in a field of thousands who need work. It is a challenge so daunting, Milwaukee has become the first city in the nation to set up a task force to specifically combat the problem.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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