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Jobless Rate For Minorities Falls

Audio

Aired 8/3/13

The labor market is continuing its recovery. The economy added 162,000 jobs in July, which pushed the unemployment rate to a four and a half year low.
After a string of bad news for African-American workers, things seem to be to turning around. Even though the jobless rate for black workers remains stubbornly high, it dropped by more than a full point.

Economists almost always use the words "slow" or "steady" to describe the current recovery.

"Unemployment stayed steady, the operative word is growth," says Bill Rodgers, an economist at Rutgers University.

He's encouraged by the falling unemployment rate. This month it went down to 7.4%. However that's the average, what the typical American could be experiencing.

"If you're African American, if you're a young millenial, if you're a person over fifty," he says, "You're living a very different story." The unemployment rate for those groups remains high.

But Rodgers says that steady growth is beginning to show up for black workers. The jobless rate for African Americans fell from 13.7% to 12.6% this past month. And unlike past reports where people were leaving the labor force, which can cause the unemployment rate to fall, it looks like the unemployment rate was falling because people, African-Americans in particular, women and even teens, were getting jobs.

On a warm weekday morning at the Chicago Urban League, a group of forty job seekers of all ages showed up for an orientation for the Urban League's Workforce Development Program. The young man leading the class had recently been unemployed for seven months.

"Nobody called me back," Kermit Collins says. "I filled out 20-30 applications a day via internet. I did the follow-up call. I did the protocol. I maybe went on three or four interviews. It wasn't my time to have employment, I should say.
I came here for more help."

Collins, who is a college graduate, was able finally to get a job in keeping with his skills. His boss, Clayton Pryor, who's the head of the Urban League's Workforce development program, says Collins is lucky. A lot of workers, especially older African Americans, are taking jobs that they are over- qualified for. The jobs that were traditionally set aside for youth - bagger, cashier or the entry-level positions that young people traditionally have done - are now being filled by people who are underemployed or who were out of employment who are taking those jobs to make ends meet.

Part of the reason that the unemployment rate is dropping for African Americans is that they're taking jobs at the lower end of the payscale.

"Everyone is, unfortunately, sort of shifting out of the middle to either the lower paying or the very high end," says Linda Barrington, a labor economist at Cornell University. "So we're seeing this hollowing out of the middle as this recovery continues." Barrington says while the recovery for blacks is continuing, a lot more needs to be done.

"We have to get the education rates comparable across different populations, we have to get people trained and interested in science and technology jobs and then we have to come back to come back to these questions of bias and prejudice."

Barrington says to get the unemployment rate, which is double what it is for whites, to fall significantly for black workers there needs to be much more job creation. And she says it has to be sustained for many years.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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