Part 3 of our Unemployment Series – Exploring the Disparity in Unemployment with African American Workers

During the past month we’ve taken a close look at the unemployment situation and its impact on vital labor sectors including veterans and disabled Americans. In part three of our series, we dissect the African American employment situation.

Like several diverse working groups, African American unemployment is higher than the national average, or at 13.8 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s January 2013 jobs report. [i] This is a full 75 percent higher than the national average, which currently stands at 7.9 percent. And while the national employment situation has improved over the past several years, down from a high of 9.1 percent in January 2011, African Americans have not enjoyed an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent since January of 2007 – which was still higher than white workers, who held an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent at the same time. [ii]

Labor force employment population ratio is also a greater concern for African Americans, with only 53.2 percent participation in the workforce [i]; eleven (11) percent lower than white workers, who hold a participation rate of 59.5 percent [i]. And when looking at the Department of Labor’s household data by race, sex and age, gender disparities also occur. African American men held an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent in January 2013 (compared to 6.6 percent for white men); women had a slightly better unemployment rate of 12.3 percent; however, this is still well below white women who reported 6.4 percent unemployment. [i]

While the highest level of unemployment is experienced in the youth labor market, or those aged 16 to 19, the situation is dire for African American youth in particular, who bear the largest brunt of the unemployment burden. Those aged 16 to 19 held an unemployment rate of 37.8 percent, compare this to the rate of white youths of 20.8 percent. [i]

Why has the African American labor market not recovered at the pace of other sectors of the workforce? According to a special report by the Department of Labor, titled The African-American Labor Force in the Recovery, “… the African-American community as a whole has exhibited poorer labor market outcomes than other races even prior to the recession and during the recovery, demonstrating that they often face different and greater challenges.”

This includes a loss of more than1 million jobs in the largest hit areas at the beginning of the economic downturn in 2007, including manufacturing, financial activities, education, transportation, warehousing and construction. [iii] And other factors such as challenges in assisting African Americans obtain careers in growth sectors including professional, scientific and technical services industry; expected to grow by 2.1 million additional jobs from 2010 to 2020, also contribute.

According to the Bureau of Labor, African Americans were under-represented in this industry, comprising only 5.9 percent of workers. [iii]

According to the report, there do remain several areas of opportunities for African American workers:

  • Employment in health and social assistance is projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to grow by 3.0 percent annually on average between 2010 and 2020, resulting in 5.6 million additional jobs in this sector by 2020. Black workers are in a good position to take advantage of many of the growing jobs in this industry, particularly as home health care aides are expected to grow by 69 percent by 2020. African Americans have a strong tradition of working in the health and social assistance industry. In 2010, they composed 16 percent of the industry’s employment, well above their share across the total economy. [iii]
  • A challenge will be to assist more African Americans to obtain careers in the professional, scientific and technical services industry, which is expected to grow by 2.1 million additional jobs from 2010 to 2020. In 2011, Blacks were under-represented in this industry, comprising only 5.9 percent of these workers. In general, Blacks are under-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematical (STEM) occupations accounting for about 8 percent or less of jobs in computer and mathematical occupations (6.9 percent), life, physical, and social science occupations (7.4 percent), and architecture and engineering occupations (5.2 percent) in 2011. [iii]

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