It was clear that the holiday shopping season would go down as one of the worst in memory weeks before Christmas. As retailers suffered dismal sales there was speculation that December’s jobless numbers would reflect the economy’s downward spiral and mirror the dramatic losses that occurred in November. Those predictions were proven true as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the December monthly Employment Situation Summary reporting that 524,000 were shed from the nation’s economy last month and unemployment now stands at 7.2 percent.
The news comes the day after President-elect Barak Obama delivered a speech at George Mason University urging swift passage of an economic recovery package and warning that the nation faced a long-term recession if Congress does not act. Despite that dire warning, the President-elect’s proposal is facing some opposition within his own party and the expedited timetable the Obama team had hoped to implement will likely now give way to a more deliberate pace through the legislative process. Mr. Obama has also signaled his support for an extension of unemployment benefits as the time workers find themselves without a job has increased during this recession. However, today’s BLS report may prompt lawmakers to quicken their pace under pressure from constituents who are facing a myriad of problems in this economy.
The recession is taking a real toll upon the Black community. During periods of relative stability Blacks were far more disadvantaged than whites in the economy, and the recession has only exacerbated those disparities. As key industries across the country retrench Black workers are particularly vulnerable and face the loss of jobs as companies institute layoffs and in some instances file for bankruptcy. The faltering U.S. auto industry, financial and retail sectors are three areas in which downsizing is hitting Black workers hard. Last month Black unemployment was 11.9 percent compared to 6.6 percent for whites. The disparity was most pronounced among males as unemployment stood at 13.4 percent for Black men compared to 6.5 percent for their white counterparts. Black women fared somewhat better at 8.9 percent but that figure was still worse than the 5.5 percent reported for white women. Black teenagers, many of whom are important wage earners in their households, fared the worse. In December unemployment among Black teenagers, age 16 to 19, was 33.7 percent and 18.7 percent for white teenagers.
Manufacturing employment fell by 149,000 in December. It was the largest over the month decline in the sector since August 2001. Factory job losses for the entire year totaled 791,000 in 2008, half of that number coming in the fourth quarter. Employment in construction fell by 101,000 last month, continuing a trend since September 2006.
Employment in retail trade declined by 67,000 as holiday sales slumped. In 2008 the sector lost 522,000 jobs and more than half of that decrease came in the last four months of last year. Employment decreased in automobile dealerships (22,000) as car sales took a dive, furniture and home furnishing stores (8,000) and electronics and appliance stores (5,000). In professional and business services employment declined by 81,000 jobs last month, for a total of 490,000 for 2008.
Transportation and warehouse jobs declined by 24,000 in December in truck transportation (16,000) and air transportation (4,000). The information industry also saw losses (20,000) and food services employment declined by 20,000 jobs.
Health care employment increased by 32,000 in December, with gains in ambulatory services (14,000) and hospitals (12,000). In 2008 the health care sector added 372,000 jobs to the economy.
The Employment Situation Summary for January will be released Friday. February 6.