While the Obama administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill bicker over the Bush-era tax cuts and an extension of unemployment benefits remains stalled, Black Americans continue to shoulder most of the burden of the economic downturn. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the November Employment Situation Summary, detailing the nation’s employment picture for last month, and the numbers point to the degree to which Blacks are facing log-term consequences from the recession. As has been the case in past months, Black unemployment is highest among all groups, at 16 percent. While it remains relatively unchanged from previous months, and other groups have edged up, Black unemployment continues to register at almost twice that of white unemployment.
The overall unemployment rate for November was 9.8 percent and there was a modest 39,000 increase in jobs to the economy. The racial disparity in unemployment is apparent in the monthly statistics. White adult (20 years and over) unemployment was 8.9 percent, with white men (9.2 percent) fairing noticeably better than Black men (16.7 percent) and Black women (13.1 percent) while white women fared the best at 7.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanics was 13.2 percent. The wide Black-white gap also exists among teenagers, 16 to 19 years of age. The unemployment rate for white teenagers was 20.9 percent and registered 46.5 percent for Black teenagers. For many Black families, wages earned by teenagers help supplement the household income and go toward basic needs. Unemployment among Black teenagers also has more far-reaching consequences on the community. The idleness of Black youth is a concern in many communities where there are high concentrations of young people and high school dropout rates, higher incidence of drug trafficking, criminal activity and gun related violence. As more Black young adults remain outside of the educational system and the labor market, they become increasingly likely to interact with law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
These numbers do not bode well for the Obama administration, coming as they do after the midterm elections that saw voters express anger over the economy and Republicans gaining a lion’s share of House seats to take back the majority. Though President Obama has announced a jobs initiative, with infrastructure projects being a centerpiece, there will likely be little movement on his proposal for some time as Republicans set the House agenda in early January when the 111th Congress convenes. For many Black Americans who are jobless it may be too little, too late by the time the White House rolls out a jobs program. Long-term joblessness is taking its toll in the Black community and the impact is evident in home foreclosures, homelessness, the rising need for social services, and overall health and wellness.
Despite continued evidence that Blacks are suffering disproportionately, the White House has remain opposed to taking a targeted approach to Black unemployment by offering a race-based prescription. President Obama has steadfastly insisted that Blacks will benefit from any improvement in general economic conditions but history does not provide any real evidence of that being the case. Even during the period of expansion during the Clinton administration, Black employment gains were tenuous and many jobs were at the low end of the wage scale. The theory that a rising tide lifts all boats has never been proven true for Blacks in the labor market, as unequal access to education and training, and discriminatory hiring practices have kept Blacks at a disadvantage as compared to whites. The irony that this condition persists under the administration of the nation’s first Black President is particularly frustrating for many Blacks who feel a personal commitment to President Obama.
The November BLS data paints a grim picture of the labor market. There was little positive movement in any sector, with health care adding 19,000 jobs and most of those concentrated in hospital hiring. Hiring in temporary help services also increased, generally a good sign since many employers often first bring on temporary help before adding permanent staff. However, employment in retail trade fell by 28,000 last month with department and home furnishing stores experiencing job losses. Retail is one area that economist will watch closely over the holiday shopping season to gauge whether the economy gets a boost from seasonal sales. Employment in manufacturing remains relatively flat.