The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary for September cast another ominous cloud over the nation’s economy as a decline in government employment, mainly attributable to the end of temporary Census jobs, helped job losses mushroom to 95,000 for the month. Though there was a modest 65,000 increase in private sector employment, the loss of government jobs was another setback to the nation’s economic recovery. Black and Latino workers held many of the Census jobs that disappeared last month, making matters worse for communities that were already hardest hit by the downturn.
The overall unemployment rate was 9.6 percent but there were wide variations between groups. White unemployment was 8.7 percent compared to Black unemployment at 16.1 percent. Further broken down, the unemployment rate for white women stood at 7.2 percent while it was 12.6 percent for Black women. The rate for white men was 8.9 percent. This stood in stark contrast to the 17.6 percent unemployment rate for Black men. Black men continue to bear the largest burden and the disproportionate share of job losses in the economy with no improvement in their fortunes in sight and no conceivable plan to address their plight. Black teenagers, age 16 to 19, are also out-of-luck as their unemployment rate for September was 49 percent compared to their white peers at 23.4 percent.
What is troubling by the statistics is that they do not paint the full picture of the economic devastation experienced in the Black community. The Bureau of Labor Statistics official unemployment rate does not reflect long-term joblessness. It only captures individuals who are in the “system,” and actively seeking employment. The experience of many Blacks severed from the labor market and who are not pursuing employment because they fear there are no jobs available or have been unable to secure a job does not register in the data. The BLS stats always underreport the true conditions facing Blacks in the labor market.
Today’s BLS report also raises the stakes for the Obama administration as it counts down the weeks before the critical midterm elections in November. With Democratic voters growing weary and cracks beginning to emerge among the party rank and file, President Obama is facing an uphill climb trying to ward off defections to maintain the majority in Congress. What is worse for the President is that many Blacks are also questioning his economic recovery agenda though his support among Black voters remains strong. For months, some Blacks, including the leadership of some advocacy organizations and the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, have been questioning the administration, publicly and privately, over its refusal to advance a targeted plan to address Black unemployment. The President has maintained his belief that a universal approach to joblessness would assist Blacks but the evidence points to the disproportionate impact of the recession. While the administration claims a wave of job creation will help Blacks when the economy begins to churn, many critics have claimed unemployed Blacks will not survive the undertow of joblessness. Making matters much worse is the degree to which economic opportunity is nonexistent for the masses of Black Americans.
No matter how slightly the job forecast improves in the private sector, there will be little positive movement for Black Americans for the foreseeable future. It raised the prospect that the nation’s first Black President will seek reelection in 2012 against the backdrop of an economic disaster of cataclysmic proportion in his own community. As he tours the country and urges Blacks to vote in the midterm election, the harsh reality of the economy may dampen the enthusiasm of many Black voters. Even more daunting for the President is the possibility that, while Blacks may not jump over to the Republican Party, the fervor of the Black electorate that was evident in 2008 may be hard to generate in 2012. Absent some large-scale movement to create jobs, at decent wages, targeted toward Black workers, the administration may only delay the bad news if it can hold onto the Democratic majority in Congress this November. Sooner or later, unemployed Blacks will grow weary over jobs promised but that never materialize. Even blaming the previous administration, a claim most Blacks philosophically concur, will lose currency given the staggering numbers of jobless in the Black community. The time is drawing near when this President is going to have to produce some real results for Black voters.