African-American Unemployment figures always masked by totals

On Friday, the Labor Department released the unemployment figures for March 2009. Keith Hall -commissioner of the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics- made the following statement before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress.

Labor market conditions continued to deteriorate in March. Total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 663,000, and the unemployment rate increased from 8.1 to 8.5 percent. Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, job losses have totaled 5.1 million, 3.3 million of which occurred in just the past 5 months.

Keith Hall’s U.S. Unemployment Statement before the Joint Economic Committee.

Those are pretty sobering numbers. But African-American unemployment always outpaces the general number leaving black folks more vulnerable to the effects of the continuing economic downturn.

In January of this year, U.S. unemployment stood at 7.6%, but the number for African-Americans was 12.6%. In February, unemployment figures had risen to 8.1% and 13.4% for Black workers. And now that we’re at 8.5% nationally, I’m sure Black unemployment is near or above 14%.

According to Hall, manufacturing, construction, and temporary help services have been hardest hit by the recession, accounting for almost two-thirds of the job losses during the recession. These are areas that employ a high number of African-Americans.

Anyone looking to reinvent themselves should consider health care or education which have not seen as many job losses as some other industries. As the husband of a nurse, I can say that my wife’s organization continues to look for more nurses just like hospitals around the country.

Those who are not able to get an advanced degree should think about becoming a medical assistant or pharmacy technician. This certifications can be obtained in less than a year. If you have family members who are having employment problems, think about suggesting these options for them.

A friend and I were talking on yesterday about how we both recently saw young black men working in Walgreens as Pharm Techs. There are a lot worse things that those young brothers could be involved in, and their certifications should serve them well while the economic crisis shakes out.

Black workers are going to have to reinvent themselves if the employment gap is going to close. Relying on manufacturing jobs -which helped raise African-Americans into the middle class a couple of generations ago- is a losing proposition.

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