More than 200,000 jobs were created last month, 216,000 to be exact. Coming after the February lift of more than 200,000 jobs, there are those who are saying that economic recovery is around the corner. I don’t know what corner they are standing on, but the African American corner took a hit in March, and the Black unemployment rate rose from 15.3 to 15.5 percent. No other racial/ethnic group saw unemployment rates rise. Some will say the slight increase is statistically insignificant. Try telling that to the African Americans who don’t have jobs, or to those who are not in the labor force. Indeed, while the number of Whites who had dropped out of the labor force went down, the number of African Americans out of the labor force went up.
The government is on the brink of closing down, with obstructionist Tea Party members determined to shrink the size of government no matter what. They have focused on government workers, but too many of these workers are African American, Latino, and female. Yes, an attack on government workers is an attack on equality, because those who work for governments are more likely to find a fair deal, have a good job, and be paid equitably. The government is on the brink of closing down, but on their way to down time, they have not found time to introduce one piece of legislation that speaks to job creation. Given the numbers that we see this month, this really means they have been unwilling and unable to deal with the jobs crisis in the African American community, as the situation in other communities is getting better.
Better does not mean acceptable. There are 13.5 million officially unemployed people in our nation, and the number that have not worked for half a year has risen from 43.9 percent to 45.5 percent in the past month. Labor force participation is at an all time low of 64.2 percent which means that too many people have left the labor force because they think they can’t find work, or they can’t afford to look. This is the story for all Americans, with the most severe measure of unemployment, the measure that accounts for those who work part time when they want full time work or are only “marginally attached” to the labor market, a whopping 15.7 percent. This means, in real terms, that nearly one in six of us is unemployed.
It gets worse, of course, for African Americans. The employment population ratio for adult Black men, at 57.2 percent, is nearly eleven points lower than the employment population ratio for adult White men, at 68.0 percent. In some communities, scarcely half of African American men are working. The same data that takes the overall population from 8.8 percent to 15.7 percent, takes the African American population from 15.5 percent to 27.6 percent, a Depression-era level unemployment rate. Why is this okay? Why has it sparked no national discussion? What does it mean that it is acceptable for the employment situation in an entire community can be imperiled? Why is it that nobody really cares?
There is joy in some quarters about the fact that significant employment has been created two months in a row. But, there is a cliché that says it takes more than a swallow to bring spring. In other words, we first of all know that at the rate we are going, it is will take until 2018, seven years from now, for us to get back to the number of jobs we had in 2007. With populating growth, even then we won’t reach the unemployment rate of 5 percent that we experienced in December of 2007. Secondly, pessimistic economists, like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, are suggesting that there is the possibility of a “double dip” recession, and that numbers could turn back down in a few months if more money is not pumped into the economy. Bankers are keeping their bailout money, having failed to address the foreclosure situation, or to lend small businesses money they need for inventory and revitalization. They are cautiously waiting for better times, but what if Congress had exercised their caution on them?
The bottom line is that while some data suggest economic recovery, the African American community is still riding on the back of the bus. It will take targeted job creation programs to improve on the new unemployment numbers. Is there anyone in Congress who will step up to say that these unacceptably high unemployment rates cannot continue?
Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in North Carolina.