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Unemployed Black workers struggle for jobs

Cynthia E. Griffin- | 5/12/2010, 5 p.m.

While the nation's overall rate in April climbed incrementally from 9.7 to 9.9 percent, and 290,000 non-farm jobs were added to the economy in April, the unemployment figure held steady for African Americans at 16.5 percent. By contrast, the percentage of Caucasians looking for work edged up to 9 percent; Hispanics also held about the same at 12.5 percent; and was 6.8 percent for Asians.

Only two categories of workers had a higher unemployment rate than Blacks--all teens ages 16 to 19, who were hit by a 23.5 percent unemployment rate for April and African American teens 16 to 19 years old, who are suffering a 37.3 rate.

The high number of African Americans searching for work has continued unabated since April 2009, when the unemployment rate hit 15 percent. Since then it has climbed steadily.

While the unemployment rate continues to inch up, the economy is also gaining jobs, according to DOL, which noted that manufacturing, professional and business services, health care, and leisure and hospitality all grew.

Simultaneously, the number of workers marginally attached to the labor force crept up to 2.4 million people compared to 2.1 million (seasonally unadjusted) in March. This total included 1.2 million discouraged workers. These are people not currently looking for work, because they believe no jobs are available for them.

The continued high unemployment rates among African Americans is not a new phenomenon, and in fact, according to a report put out last month by the U.S. (Congressional) Joint Economic Committee (JEC), Blacks make up about 11.5 percent of the nation's labor force but account for 17.8 percent of those not working, 20.3 percent of people unemployed for more than six months and 22.1 of workers unemployed for at least one year.

"Understanding the Economy: Long-Term Unemployment in the African American Community," also noted that Black men have been particularly impacted by the employment crises. Their unemployment rates jumped from 9 percent to 19 percent between February 2007 and February 2010. The rate for women during that same period jumped from 7.1 to 13.1 percent. Additionally 45 percent of unemployed Blacks have been out of work for at least six months.

The report is the first in a series of JEC investigations that will examine the unemployment situation among African Americans, Hispanics, youth, and women. It was prepared by the JEC staff and draws from previously unpublished data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

JEC Chair Carolyn Maloney noted that, "By better understanding the unemployment challenges facing specific communities, Congress can design and enact innovative policies that effectively address these challenges and help people get back to work."

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been pushing for some programs that will address the high Black employment rate, and CBC head Congresswoman Barbara Lee offered this statement about the new numbers: ". . . The unemployment rate for African Americans still stands at 16.5 percent, while unemployment among Latinos dropped slightly from 12.6 to 12.5. These figures remain unacceptably high and speak to the continued need to develop policies that address the needs of the chronically unemployed.