by: Alex Mikulich, Ph.D.
The stock market surged a bit on the encouraging government jobs report released February 3, 2012 (see the New York Times, “3-Year High for Dow as Wall St. Cheers Data”). As Robert Reich notes, “under ordinary circumstances January’s unemployment rate of 8.3 percent would be terrible” (See Reich’s “America’s Job Deficit and Why It is Still More Important than the Budget Deficit”). However, compared to September’s 9.1 percent, the trend line seems headed in the right direction—9 percent in October, 8.6 percent in November, 8.5 percent in December and 8.3 percent in January.
While these numbers seem encouraging, a closer look at the numbers in terms of geography and race tells another story. Algeron Austin of the Economic Policy Institute finds that African American unemployment rate in 2011 averaged 15.8 percent, twice the white average of 7.9 percent. Algeron continues to explain that this 2 to 1 level of disparity has persisted since 1960 (based upon Census Bureau data). This 50-year level of employment inequality persists in the Gulf South.
(Adapted from Algeron Austin, “No Relief in 2012 from High Unemployment for African Americans and Latinos,” Issue Brief #322, February 16, 2012).
In every Gulf South state, the unemployment disparity between whites and African Americans stands at least at the 50-year level of 2 unemployed African Americans to every 1 unemployed white. Except for Florida, every other Gulf South state has levels of white unemployment less than the national unemployment rate. By contrast, African Americans struggle against double-digit unemployment rates in every Gulf South state. The unemployment rate for African Americans is triple the white unemployment rate in Mississippi and Louisiana. The African American unemployment rate is more than double the white unemployment rate in Alabama, Florida, and Texas.
Algeron Austin explains that the fourth quarter 2012 unemployment rate for each race is projected to remain very similar to the third quarter of 2011. At the January 2012 rate of job growth, it would take until 2019 to get to full employment and that still means high unemployment for African Americans and Latinos.
Austin suggests a robust and targeted approach to the most economically devastated communities, those that have experienced unemployment of over six percent every year in the last ten years (See Algeron’s “A Jobs-centered Approach to African American Community Development”. He further suggests a Federal program, not unlike those utilized during the Great Depression, that includes 1) Direct public sector employment aimed at improving the quality of life of vulnerable communities, including efforts to build human and physical infrastructure, safety, health, and attractiveness of neighborhoods; 2) Job training and job placement; and 3) Wage subsidies. As the Mississippi Economic Policy Center explains in its “State of Working Mississippi 2012,” close to 275,000 Mississippi adults work in low-wage jobs that are not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty.
We need to put this kind of targeted approach on the national agenda in 2012. Nothing less will suffice for the communities suffering continued economic depression. Otherwise, there is certainly no relief in sight.
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