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Black Unemployment Dips to 5-Year Low

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Black unemployment rate fell to 11.6 percent in April, the lowest mark since President Barack Obama took his office in January 2009, according to the Labor Department’s latest jobs report.

In January 2009, the Black jobless rate was 12.7 percent. The last time the Black unemployment rate dipped below 12 percent was in November 2008 when the rate was 11.5 percent.

The economy added 288,000 jobs and the national unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in April, down from 6.7 percent in March.

On the surface, the 0.4 percent decline in the unemployment rate may cause some to celebrate, but Valerie Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute, said much of the improvement was the result of people exiting the labor market.

The labor force participation rate, a measure of people who are either employed or currently looking for work, declined from 63.2 percent in March to 62.8 percent in April.

During the recovery following the Great Recession, Wilson said that the declines in the labor force participation rate have been smaller for Blacks, especially Black women.

In December of 2007, at the beginning of the Great Recession, the labor force participation rate was 70.7 percent for Black men over 20 years-old and 76.3 percent for White men. The labor force participation rate was 63.4 percent for Black women over 20 years-old and 60.2 percent for White women.

Since then, White men over 20 years-old have shed 5.6 percent from their employment participation rate, the sharpest decline of all adult worker groups. Black women over 20 years-old have experienced a 1.7 percent decline, the lowest drop of all adult worker groups.

Wilson said that the Black labor force has been “remarkably resilient” as Blacks continue to search for jobs in the face of a challenging job market.

Wilson added that by letting the unemployment insurance benefits expire for millions of struggling Americans at the end of 2013, Washington lawmakers have taken money out the hands of people that would fuel the economy and job growth by spending on food and other necessities.

Wilson said that the expiration of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits contributed to the anemic GDP growth over the first quarter of this year.

“That points to how important it is that people continue to have access to those benefits, because they are important, not only for the stability of their own individual household, but also for the continued growth of our economy,” said Wilson.

Congressional inaction on extending the unemployment benefits during this period of economic recovery is without precedent.

In a post on the website for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Chad Stone, chief economist for the center wrote that “long-term unemployment remains a particular concern” and highlight’s the need for Congress to take action.

”Over a third (35.3 percent) of the 9.8 million people who are unemployed — 3.5 million people — have been looking for work for 27 weeks or longer. These long-term unemployed represent 2.2 percent of the labor force,” wrote Stone. ”Before this recession, the previous highs for these statistics over the past six decades were 26 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, in June 1983, early in the recovery from the 1981-82 recession. By the end of the first year of the recovery from that recession, however, the long-term unemployment rate had dropped below 2 percent.”

When lawmakers managing that recession finally ended the emergency program in March of 1985, the long-term unemployed accounted for 1.2 percent of the labor force, one percentage point lower than the current 2.2 percent mark.

Although one month’s jobs numbers don’t make a trend, the number of jobs created in April combined with upward revisions for February (197,000 to 222,000) and March (192,000 to 203,000), could be a sign that the economy is slowly gaining ground.

“We need to see more [job growth] like we saw in April,” said Wilson. “Hopefully, that’s not an anomaly.”

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