The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its monthly Employment Situation Summary for September today and the data points to the how far the economy has yet to go before a full and complete recovery can be claimed. According to the BLS, the unemployment rate has increased to 9.8 percent, double what it was at the start of the recession in December 2007. Total employment continued to decline though at a slower pace, as was the case in August. Last month the economy shed 263,000 jobs. Since the recession began, the number of unemployed persons has increased to 15.1 million from 7.6 million.
For Black Americans the economic picture is dismal and reveals that a recovery may be far off for Black workers. Since Blacks have traditionally lagged in the workforce, the recession has only exacerbated conditions and threatens to permanently displace many Black workers, particularly Black men. Among all groups, Black men and teenagers are faring the worst. In August, the unemployment rate for Black men was 16.5 percent and for Black teenagers, age 16 to 19, 40.8 percent. The rate for Black women was 12.5 percent, still higher than the overall rate but better than Black males. The overall unemployment rate for Blacks stood at 15.4 percent, compared to 9 percent for whites.
So where are the jobs and what industries have been impacted by the recession? Job losses continue to mount in construction, manufacturing, retail trade and government. This is not a good sign for Black workers, particularly since the last three areas are ones in which significant numbers of Blacks are employed.
In the manufacturing sector, employment fell by 51,000 jobs last month. This has been an ongoing trend since the start of the recession, with 2.1 million jobs shed since December 2007. The BLS report indicates that over the last three months job losses in manufacturing averaged 53,000 per month. The number of jobs in retail trade dropped by 39,000 in September. Losses in retail have averaged 29,000 per month from April through September. A similar dismal picture exists in government employment, with 53,000 jobs shed last month and the largest decline occurring in non-education functions of local government.
Construction employment continued to decline though this is a sector where Blacks have traditionally faced barriers to entry. Last month construction employment fell by 64,000 jobs. Losses were concentrated in nonresidential construction (39,000) and heavy construction (12,000). The sector has shed 1.5 million jobs since the start of the recession.
The one bright area of the economy is health care, not an insignificant occurrence given the health care debate currently underway on Capitol Hill. Last month, the health care sector gained 19,000 jobs, with 15,000 coming in ambulatory health care services. The sector has added 559,000 jobs since the start of the recession. The average monthly gain has slowed down though, from 30,000 new jobs per month in 2008 to 22,000 thus far in 2009.