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1 in Every 4 Blacks Underemployed, More Black Women Jobless

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The jobless rate for Blacks continues to be nearly twice that of whites. And Black men continue to have the highest rate of unemployment of any group, but Black women are catching up. The statistics are grim—one of every four Black adults in the United States is underemployed.

The unemployment rate for Blacks ages 16 and older inched up slightly last month to 15.6 percent, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 15.4 percent in June and 15.5 percent in May. The jobless rate represents the percentage of the workingage population that's unemployed.

To be counted as unemployed, a person must not have had a job and have been actively searching for work the previous month. People who are underemployed either work full time at a job for which they are overqualified or work part time at a job but are seeking full-time employment.

The recently released "Work in the Black Community" report from University of California, Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education found the July unemployment rate for Blacks—who account for about 14 percent of the U.S. population—was again nearly twice the rate of whites, who have had an 8.6 percent unemployment rate for two consecutive months.

While Black adult men experienced the highest unemployment in July at 17.8 percent (compared with 9.4 percent for white males in July), this rate is down 0.6 percentage points from June's 18.4 percent.

Black women, however, saw a jump in joblessness to 13.7, up 1.1 percentage points from June's 12.6 percent.

White women unemployment stood at 7.6 for two months in a row.

Although the jobless rate for Latinos in July was 3.5 percentage points higher than whites, their unemployment dipped to 12.1 percent from 12.4 percent in both May and June.

The national average unemployment rate of 9.5 percent remained the same as June, despite the payroll employment decline of 131,000 that is attributed to the loss of temporary U.S. Census Bureau jobs.

Where Are the Black Teen Jobs?

Black teens overall:
Unemployment among Black teens ages 16 to 19—while "extremely volatile from month to month," states the report—has been steadily increasing throughout the summer. In July, their jobless rate stood at 40.6 percent, up from 39.9 percent in June and 38 percent in May, compared with white rates of 28.7 percent (July), 23.2 percent (June) and 24.4 percent (May).

Teens by gender: In July, both Black men and women saw a slight increase in joblessness. Unemployment for Black male teens remains the highest at 43.7 percent, up from 43.2 percent in June. Black female teen unemployment rose from 36.5 percent in June to 37.1 percent in July.

According to the BLS report, employment increased in the following sectors last month: manufacturing, healthcare, transportation/ warehousing and mining.

What's the Solution?

"Simply ending the recession will not solve the job crisis within the Black community," write Berkeley's Sylvia Allegretto and Steven Pitts in their just-published "The State of Black Workers before the Recession" research brief.

"Many analysts have noted that labor market distress—when properly calculated—among Black workers has been at catastrophic levels for decades. In the tough labor market of today, about one out of every four Black workers is underemployed, but even in good times the ratio was 1 in 7. This recognition calls into question the policy goal of returning the economy to pre–Great Recession norms and standards."

Since racial inequality has manifested itself in the distribution of employment across industries, the median-wage levels of workers in the economy and the distribution of earnings within industries, Allegretto and Pitts advise the following best practices:

Aggressive enforcement by the U.S. Department of Labor (and associated organizations at the state and local levels) of labor/employment laws that support racial equality Create targeted workforce-development programs that place Black workers into pipelines leading to higher-paying industry segments Conduct research to find out how and why "there exists such an unbalanced racial representation across industrial sectors," write the authors. Also, determine why wage inequality is so pervasive within major industrial sectors.

The UC Berkeley Center's monthly jobs report is part of the Black Worker Project and produced with support from the Open Society Institute's Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

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