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Jobless Rate Drops, Yet Black Unemployment Rises

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Even though 216,000 jobs were created in March and the nation’s unemployment rate fell to 8.8 percent overall, the jobless rate for blacks rose from 15.3 percent to 15.5 percent.

The employment situation for Hispanics improved with their unemployment rate dropping to 11.3 percent, compared with 11.6 percent in February and 13.2 percent in November.

When the recession began in 2007, black and Latino workers lost their jobs faster than whites, says Roderick Harrison, a demographer at Howard University and senior fellow at the nonpartisan Joint Center for Political and Economic Research. That’s because black and Latino workers were concentrated in industries that lost the most jobs like manufacturing and construction, he says. 

And as the economy slowly recovers, Harrison says, black and Latino males are  having the hardest time finding work now because the industries that added jobs during the recession—health care and educational services—have historically employed more women than men.

Although black workers generally are less educated than white workers, education plays only a small part in the joblessness, Harrison says.  Black workers with college degrees are more mobile and can follow the new jobs, which are mainly in the South. But throughout the recession, even black college graduates have been more likely than whites to be unemployed, he adds.

Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) says the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP), the share of the population that is employed, edged up to 58.5 percent—the highest ratio since September. But for blacks, the EPOP fell to 51.9 percent, practically at the recession low in September.

The lack of additional funding for the Economic Recovery Act aid to states also hurts the black middle class, Harrison says, because many of them work as teachers, police and in public service. Without that federal aid, he said, state budgets are strained and those jobs are in jeopardy.

Finally, Harrison says, the ability to get to the new jobs generally requires a car. The jobs that are being created are office jobs and most are located in far-flung suburbs, not in the cities and inner-ring suburbs where most blacks live.

To increase black employment and jobs in general, Harrison says, the nation needs a jobs creation policy, particularly an industrial policy to rebuild manufacturing and construction. He says:

Right now we’re stumbling out of this recession. If we don’t find a way for the economy to create jobs, people won’t have the money to buy things, which is two-thirds of our economy. We’re still relying on the magic hand of the market to do it and it’s not working.


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