Following the release yesterday of the ADP National Employment Report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released the government’s official summary of the nation’s employment picture for the month of April. The BLS indicates that nonfarm employment increased by 244,000 but the unemployment rate edged up to 9 percent. The results of the monthly survey suggest that the economic recovery is puttering despite some signs that point to progress in turning around a historic recession.
For Black Americans the key indicator of a true recovery is jobs and the employment prospects have remained bleak for Black workers during this recession. Having started off at a disadvantage in the labor market prior to the start of the recession, the downturn has served to debilitate Black workers and points to a lasting impact on Black economic progress. Combined with the collapse of the housing market, Blacks have taken a giant step backward from the progress that had been made after decades of historic discrimination in employment and housing. Complicating matters is the high expectations among Black Americans of the Obama administration as many hoped the nation’s first Black President would pay special attention to the plight of Black joblessness, while recognizing the President inherited the nation’s present economic woes. While still maintaining strong support among Black voters, the White House is well aware that the President’s reelection chances hinge upon maintaining historic levels of Black voter turnout and his campaign cannot risk a lethargic Black voter turnout.
Last month Black unemployment stood at 16.1 percent. It is not quite the dreaded 2x white unemployment but still dramatically inflated and when combined with prolonged joblessness, dangerous to the nation’s long-term economic security. As has been the case for years, among adult workers Black men have been most affected and in April they endured an unemployment rate of 17 percent while the rate for Black women was 13.4 percent. Black teenagers, young adults between age 16 and 19, again fared worse among all workers with an unemployment rate of 41.6 percent. Many of the young adults fall into the category of “disconnected youth,” those between the age of 16 and 24 who are out of school and out of work. It is a particularly daunting problem for Black families as many households rely on the wages of teenage workers, even if from part-time employment, to meet family expenses. Employment for many Black teenagers is not an option, it’s a necessity. By comparison, the overall unemployment rate for whites in April was 8 percent, lower than the national rate and for males (7.9 percent), females (7 percent) and young adults (22.3 percent).
In April the retail sector saw a 57,000 increase in employment, with gains coming in electronics and appliance stores, building and garden supply stores and automobile dealers. The professional and business services sector continued to expand last month, gaining 51,000 jobs, with growth in management and technical services (11,000) and computer system design and related services (8,000). However, there was little change in hiring in temporary help services, not a good sign since employers often bring on temp workers in advance of permanent hiring. Health care employment also showed positive numbers last month, picking up 37,000 jobs with most of the gains in ambulatory care (22,000) and hospitals (10,000). The hospitality sector added 46,000 jobs in April, continuing a growth trend over the last three months that has resulted in an increase of 151,000 jobs, with nearly two-thirds of that growth in food services and drinking establishments. While the jobs in the hospitality sector are welcome news, the fact that it resolves around food and alcohol consumption may be a sign of the stress factor at work among Americans.
The manufacturing (29,000) and mining (11,000) sectors also added jobs in April but employment in the government sector, long a critical pathway for Blacks en route to the middle class, continued a downward trend.