On the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union address, and his conversation with Congressional Republicans in Baltimore, the January Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Employment Situation Summary was much anticipated on Capitol Hill. The December jobs report carried a grim message, as the number of jobs lost exceeded projections and unemployment hovered at 10 percent. The Obama administration received some good news as January’s numbers revealed the complexity of the nation’s economic recovery.
Last month, jobs losses totaled 20,000 but the overall employment rate dipped from 10 percent to 9.7 percent. Despite the improvement in the unemployment rate, Black Americans are still enduring the most of the economic downturn, and Black men in particular, have been disadvantaged by the recession. Black unemployment stood at 16.5 percent in January, almost half that of whites at 8.7 percent. However, the unemployment rate for Black men was 17.5 percent, while the rate for white men was 9.1 percent. The group that is weathering the economic storm is white women, whose unemployment rate was 6.8 percent, compared to Black women at 13.3 percent. Black youth are also faring poorly in this recession. Their unemployment rate was 43.8 percent and the rate for white youth, age 16 to 19 years old, was 23.5 percent. The employment of Black youth is critical to many Black households as total family income is often dependent upon contributions from young adults, many of whom require jobs to help pay for household necessities.
The challenge of the recovery is stimulating jobs growth across industrial sectors and the January BLS report reveals just how difficult it is to achieve that distribution across industries. Employment in construction continued a decline that has been evident since the start of the recession in December 2007, losing 75,000 jobs last month. One area that employs Blacks, couriers and messengers, lost 23,000 jobs, contributing to a total decline in transportation and warehousing of 19,000 for the month of January. There was good news in the numbers for temporary help services last month, adding 52,000 jobs in a sector that is often considered a bellwether for an expansion of permanent jobs as companies begin short-term hiring, as they grow confident business is picking up. Temporary employment is also an entry point for Black workers. Another sector where Blacks can be found among the workforce is retail trade and last month the sector added 42,000 jobs. Job growth was in food stores (14,000), clothing stores (13,000) and general merchandise retailers (10,000).
Employment in health care continued to grow in January, with 15,000 jobs gained in ambulatory health care services. While the debate continues on health care reform, the sector has consistently added jobs to the nation’s economy over the course of the recession, and is projected to continue to expand in the foreseeable future. The federal government helped the employment numbers last month, adding 33,000 jobs. Some (9,000) of that job growth can be attributed to temporary hiring for the 2010 Census. The picture is not at rosy at the state and local level, where budgets are being cut and layoffs are being enacted to address deficits.
Another result of the recession is the need for workers to seek part-time work to supplement their full-time wages as their hours were cut back or because full-time work is not available. Last month the number of individuals who worked part-time for “economic reasons” fell from 9.2 to 8.3 million; a positive trend. In January, there were 2.5 million people “marginally attached” to the workforce, meaning that they were not in the labor force, but wanted to work, and had looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months. Since these individuals had not actively searched for work in the 4 weeks prior to the January jobs report, they were not counted among the unemployed. Among the latter group were 1.1 million “discouraged” workers, people not currently looking for work because they believe there are no jobs available for them.