When an economics professor in Milwaukee studied the issue of black male unemployment, he found that his city had the second-highest such jobless rate in the nation last year.
Guess who finished first:
The Buffalo metro area topped the list among 35 large American cities with a staggering black male jobless rate of 51.4 percent, according to figures cited by Professor Marc V. Levine of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Milwaukee finished a close second, at 51.1 percent, with Detroit third, St. Louis fourth and Chicago fifth.
"It's nothing less than a civic outrage to have these levels of joblessness," Levine said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The study didn't take Buffalo city officials by surprise.
"I knew there was a high unemployment rate in the black male population, which is why we have worked so hard to enhance the employment environment in Buffalo," Mayor Byron W. Brown said. "This is an inherited problem, which is decades in the making."
Asked for specifics about what his administration is doing to attack the problem, Brown cited the mayor's summer youth employment program, which has grown from 1,294 youths in 2005 to 3,113 this past summer.
The city also has instituted a winter program. It meant 100 youth jobs last winter and plans for 250 this winter.
Such programs are crucial in making young people more employable, providing some income for hard-pressed families and teaching both the value and rewards of having a job, the mayor said.
Denver had the lowest black male jobless rate, 28.7 percent, followed by Washington with 29.5 percent and San Diego with 31.1.
The data, according to Levine's study for the university's Center for Economic Development, are based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey.
In his study, Levine also compared the black and white jobless rates for each of the 35 metro areas. Milwaukee had a relatively low white jobless rate of 18.6 percent, meaning that the gap between its black and white jobless rates was 32.5 percentage points.
That gave Milwaukee, by far, the biggest racial gap among the 35 metro areas in the study.
Buffalo finished second in that category with a racial gap of 26.1 percentage points -- the difference between its black jobless rate of 51.4 percent and its white jobless figure of 25.3.
"Only in depressed, de-industrializing Buffalo did the racial gap in joblessness come close . . . to Milwaukee's," Levine wrote in his study.
While Levine's 21-page report deals mostly with the situation in Milwaukee, some of the report's comments about black unemployment obviously would apply to Buffalo.
"With a national economy poised on the edge of a major recession -- or worse -- and on top of an already-deteriorating labor market in Milwaukee, the city faces the grave prospect of further increases in black male joblessness," the report states.
Both cities, Levine said Tuesday, are in the grips of the recession already.
In trying to improve their black male unemployment rates, the Buffalo and Milwaukee areas both face the same disconnect. Their segregated population patterns mean that more than 80 percent of their African-American labor force lives in the city, while any job growth occurs in the suburbs.
Long distances and lack of suitable public transportation make it difficult for both cities to bridge that gap.
"There's a limited accessibility to the jobs that are being created in the metropolitan area," Levine said.
So what should Buffalo and Milwaukee take from the study? "Hopefully, these numbers are a big wake-up call to policymakers that we have an intolerably high jobless rate," Levine said.
Brown said he could use the study's results in seeking tools to help reduce such joblessness.
Among other recommendations, Levine called for a greater public infrastructure investment, not only as a national effort, but as a regional and local one. And he also called for a huge green economic investment that could create 2 million new "blue/green-collar" jobs across the country.