A Crisis Ignored

Apr 14, 2011



While the national unemployment rate is decreasing, it's on the rise for blacks. But it barely makes news.

By Kisha Bird and Rhonda Tsoi-A-Fatt

Headlines continue to trumpet news on the improving national employment picture. For the first time in two years, the country's unemployment rate dipped below 9 percent, falling to a two-year low of 8.8 percent in March.

Economists point to this other evidence to note the economy is in recovery. And it may very well be for a wide swath of the population. However, recovery is not occurring for everyone, and those who struggled most to find employment before the economic downturn collectively are worse off today than they were before the recession began.

This is most true for the black community. While the national unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month, it actually increased in March by two-tenths of a percent for blacks and stands at 15.5 percent, nearly double the 7.9 percent unemployment average for whites. The increase among blacks was driven by a spike in unemployment for black men. It climbed to 16.8 percent from 16.2 percent (for black women, the rate decreased from 13 percent to 12.5 percent but is still disproportionately high). The unemployment rate for black youth (16 to 19) has also increased significantly from 38.4 percent to 42.1 percent.

If the double-digit unemployment rate for blacks, particularly the upward trajectory, were true for the entire nation, the headlines would be starkly different, and policymakers would be prepared to declare a national employment crisis. The political discourse likely would be focused on how to put people to work, including examining existing workforce development policies and job creation. But the black unemployment rate barely made a ripple.


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