The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) today released the Employment Situation Summary for March and announced that employment increased by 216,000 last month, good news for the Obama administration but a glass half-full for Black Americans. While overall unemployment stands at 8.8 percent, Blacks remain mired at the bottom of the economic well facing an unemployment rate of 15.5 percent. The disproportionate impact of the economic downturn on Blacks has become the recurring theme of the recession, with no visible policy response from the White House to address this dilemma. Black men and teenagers, age 16 to 19 years old, have been most affected with unemployment rates of 16.8 percent and 42.1 percent respectively. Black men and young adults are the two groups with the highest unemployment status. The rate for Black women is 12.5 percent. By comparison, the unemployment rate for white teenagers is reported at 21.6 percent and for white females, 6.9 percent. The unemployment rate for white men is 7.7 percent.
The persistence of Black unemployment at a time when there are signs of the beginnings of an economic recovery is troubling. Going into the recession in December 2007, Blacks were already disadvantaged in the labor market and the downturn simply made a bad situation worse. To date, the President has refused to offer a specific policy prescription targeting Black unemployment despite the evidence of a cataclysmic meltdown in the Black community. Just yesterday, the National Urban League released its annual “State of Black America” report in a Town Hall at Howard University in the nation’s capital. The report is a yearly assessment of the economic condition of Black America and this year the prognosis was that Blacks are in crisis. The National Urban League used its Equality Index to measure economic disparity between Blacks and whites, and determined that economic equality has declined by a percentage point. The organization has released its own job growth agenda that CEO Marc Morial has been promoting across the country.
Given the persistence of Black unemployment and long-term joblessness, affecting individuals who are no longer actively seeking employment and who are not accounted for in the Labor Department’s monthly survey of the unemployed, the prospect of a “jobless recovery” is becoming more of a probability for Blacks with each passing month. It places the Obama administration in a quandary as the 2012 election looms large in the background. The possibility of the nation’s first Black President, elected with the enthusiastic support of the Black electorate, ending his first term with Black Americans largely jobless as the economy recovers may spell bad news for the Democratic Party. Though he still maintains great support among Blacks, and Black voters are unlikely to drift to a Republican candidate, their dampened enthusiasm could result in low voter turnout.
Compounding problems for the President is the contentious negotiations over the FY2012 federal budget. With reports indicating that the White House might compromise some programs that target the poor and working-class, there will be little good news coming out of this budget for Black Americans. Cuts or the downsizing of domestic programs, combined with high unemployment, leaves little for Blacks to cheer as the White House winds up its political operation for the President’s re-election. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will be challenged to motivate their constituents, suffering from unemployment and cuts in social programs, as they did in 2008 when anticipation was high over the prospects of making history and facing a Republican ticket that was its own worst enemy. Despite some obvious red flags, such as the BLS report released today, it does not appear that the White House is fashioning a policy response to counter the trends in Black unemployment; leaving any improvement in the jobs status of Blacks to the larger forces shaping the recovery.