The February jobs numbers released this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides more hope to the nation’s millions of unemployed that a full-scale economic recovery may be underway. Following the very upbeat numbers for January, today’s BLS report also provides ammunition to the Obama administration as the President gears up for an expectedly tough re-election battle in November. When Republican presidential contenders haven’t been hammering each other, they have taken turns criticizing President Obama’s economic record. The White House has been measured in its public rhetoric on the economy but privately applauds every month of significant job growth and the lowering or maintaining of the nation’s unemployment rate.
In February 227,000 new jobs were added to the economy and the overall unemployment rate remains at 8.3 percent. The unemployment number is not what it appears though as millions of the unemployed have simply given up their jobs search out of frustration and are not included in the monthly survey of the jobless. While the unemployment rate dropped in January, there is still a racial disparity in the plight of the unemployed. At the end of last month the Department of Labor issued a report detailing the status of African-Americans in the recovery and teased out the areas of improvement in the economic status of Blacks as well as the myriad of challenges that remain. While white unemployment stands at 7.3 percent, Black unemployment is 14.1 percent; still almost double the white rate. Racial and gender disparities persist too. The unemployment rate for white males was 6.8 percent compared to 14.3 percent for Black men. The gap also persists between white females (6.8 percent) and Black women (12.4 percent) though less so than for men. The status of Black teenagers remains a significant problem and one that the Obama administration is proposing to partially address in the FY ’13 budget through summer youth employment and a longer-term effort to prepare young people for work. The unemployment rate for Black teenagers (16 to 19 years) is 34.7 percent while the rate for white teenagers stands at 21.3 percent. Black men and teenagers have been the most severely impacted by the recession and have lagged considerably in the recovery.
There was job growth in professional and business services (82,000), with over half of the increase in temporary help services. That is a good sign because in many instances firms hire temporary workers as a precursor to creating permanent jobs. Employment in this sector has grown by 1.4 million jobs since September 2009. Health care employment continues to trend positive, adding 61,000 jobs last month. Employment in health care has increased by 360,000 jobs over the last 12 months. There was also an increase of 12,000 jobs in social assistance occupations; a result of the recession.
Last month employment in leisure and hospitality rose by 44,000 jobs and most of that growth came from food services and drinking establishments. As the summer vacation season approaches this sector will be closely watched to see if the rise in fuel prices has any effect upon consumer behavior. The manufacturing sector added 31,000 jobs in February and employment in mining increased by 7.000 jobs last month. There was little change in construction and retail trade; bringing to a halt two consecutive months of job gains in construction. Government employment also remained unchanged and is likely to stay flat or decrease going forward. In 2011 there was an average of 22,000 jobs lost per month in government employment. The loss of public sector jobs has most affected African-Americans as the government has been a primary employer of Blacks and the source of many middle class and white-collar professional jobs.