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Black unemployment back up again


In January, the unemployment rate for African Americans overall dropped to 13.6 percent, a sharp plunge from the December 2011 figure of 15.8 percent.

Those officials who did remark on the change, (and not many did, according to UC Berkeley labor specialist Steven Pitts, Ph.D.) urged caution to see if the decline would continue.

The February figures came out last week and the answer is it didn’t. The Black unemployment rate climbed to 14.1 percent in the second month of the year.

Pitts attributes the increase to three factors:

* There is a slow and steady overall improvement in the economy, which helped pull the number down in January.

* The unemployment rate is determined by using the Current Population Survey, which includes only a very small a number of Blacks. Consequently, there is a lot of month-to-month volatility in the rate.

* Finally, because the numbers used are samples of the population, weights are added to even out the percentages. These weights are based on the annual census, and in January, the 2010 census numbers were used for the first time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the new population controls reduced the Black unemployment by 0.1 percent.

Shortly before the new unemployment figures were released, the Department of Labor made public a report called “The African American Labor Force in the Recovery. (Feb. 29).”

Among the items of note in the report:

* In 2011, about half of Blacks aged 16 and older had a job, and 18.0 percent of them worked part-time.

* Blacks are the only other racial or ethnic group for whom women represent a larger share of the employed than do men–53.8 percent. However, Black women earn only 91 cents for every dollar Black men earn, and they earn 76.3 percent of the salaries earned by White men (on average $653 per week in 2011.)

* The Black unemployment rate has been trending downward since its high point of 16.7 percent in August 2011. (Note: unemployment peaked for Whites in October 2009 and November 2010 for Hispanics.) This slowdown is due in part to the increase in private-sector healthcare employment, and a slowing in the number of government jobs lost. Blacks are 30 percent more likely than other races to work for a city, state, or federal agency.

*During the deepest part of the recession Black employment took the largest hit in manufacturing, financial activities, education, health services, transportation, warehousing and construction. The Department of Labor says together these industries employed nearly 1 million fewer Blacks in 2009 than they did in 2007.

*Finally, one of the most interesting facts to come out of the Department of Labor report explores the connection between education and unemployment rates. Conventional wisdom says the lower the educational attainment the higher the unemployment.

However, the report found that at every educational level, the African American unemployment rate is higher. The difference is that with a bachelor’s degree and higher the gap between Whites and Blacks is smaller (7.1 to 3.9 compared to 24.6 to 12.7 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.)

Pitts of UC Berkeley says that persistent gap can only be attributed to racism. He believes that one key way to potentially eliminate this challenge is to prevent employers from showing their bias by following the model of the unions, which rely on a hiring hall concept–employers contractually agree to accept all workers sent from the hall.