The gloomy federal jobs report for May has brought to the forefront again all the questions – and fears – about the economy and the jobs crisis that six months ago were pushed into the deep background by the compromise on unemployment benefits between President Obama and the Republicans in Congress.
The legislation ensured that for all of this year all jobless workers who reach the normal six-month cutoff point for unemployment benefits – estimated at about four million – would automatically have their payments renewed. The measure also included another two million whose benefits were lapsing during last December as well.
In exchange, the President agreed to extend for another two years the Bush-era provisions governing estate taxes and tax cuts for the highest-income earners.
The administration was clearly hoping that during this year, the economic recovery would have gathered enough steam to forge the kind of job growth that would jump-start a sustained paring of the jobless rolls.
That hasn't happened. Instead, the slowing of the momentum of economic recovery has produced a keenly-felt disconnect between the fact that the Great Recession officially ended nearly two years ago and the fact of the hardship many Americans are still enduring.
The official unemployment rate for May inched up to 9.1 percent and a just-barely-positive 54,000 new jobs were tallied. That underscored the fact that the labor market still has seven million fewer jobs than at the start of the crisis in December 2007—and that some 14 million Americans remain out of work. Which, in turn, raised the point that many labor-market analysts expect it will take years of sustained significant job growth to push the unemployment rate down to its pre-recession level between five and six percent.
The recovery's tepid pace has also emphasized the many worrisome questions about the recession's long-term effects. Millions of younger workers among the jobless face a future in which their lifetime earnings are likely to be permanently diminished by this period of sustained joblessness. And, many jobless workers who are 55 and older are likely – if they can find work again – to never again approach the status or wages of their previous jobs. In addition, the number of long-term unemployed workers – those jobless for six months or more – after declining somewhat late last year is on the rise again. The 6.2 million workers in this category now comprise 45.1 percent of the total jobless, from 43.4 percent in April.
Numerous analysts have expressed concern that many of the long-term unemployed will never again find consistent employment.
If not mitigated, these possibilities will in the years ahead diminish the amount of payments into the funds for Social Security and Medicare, just as the largest waves of Baby Boomers are likely to be drawing heavily on those two federal programs.
Further, the May jobs report, in which Black unemployment ticked upward from April's 16.1 to 16.2 percent, again underlined the intensifying racially-skewed dynamic within the broader economic crisis.
This month's report on Black employment and unemployment from the Center for Labor Research and Education of the University of California at Berkeley (PDF) noted that the Black unemployment figures stand in stark contrast to those of Whites, which plateaued at 8.0 percent for both months. Furthermore, the composite figures for Blacks mask the separately alarming predicaments of Black male and female workers. Unemployment for the former climbed from 18.1 to 18.6 percent, while that of Black females stood in May at 14,1 percent, down slightly from April's 14.4 percent (compared to 7.5 and 7.6 percent, respectively, for white females workers).
That was just one of numerous statistics – including homeownership rates, the incidence of foreclosures, funds saved for retirement , household income, access to health care, and poverty rates — that show, amid the difficult present and worrisome prospects for several segments of American workers in general, Black Americans' predicament continues to be the worst of all.
But, of all of this data, the Black unemployment rate, seeming now to be slowly spiraling upward on a curve of its own, presents the greatest danger. The reason is simple: If fewer and fewer Blacks have jobs, all of the other indices of their economic status will get worse.
Lee A. Daniels is Director of Communications for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and Editor-in-Chief of TheDefendersOnline.