WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The numbers are clear. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the national unemployment rate remained steady at 9.7 percent last month, there remains the untold story.
That story is that as the overall unemployment rate remained steady, the Black unemployment rate leaped from 15.8 percent to 16.5 percent. The rate for Black women rose from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent. The rate for Black men closed in on 20 percent, rising from 17.8 to 19.0.
Meanwhile, unemployment rates for White America – only half that of the Black rate - either remained steady or went down. For Whites, the rate remained at 8.8 percent, well below the national average. For White men, the rate dropped from 9.0 percent to 8.9 percent. For White women, the rate remained steady at 7.3 percent.
Labor experts say racial disparities in education is a key answer.
"There's a very sharp relationship between the level of education and unemployment rates," says Dr. Barry R. Chiswick, distinguished professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the UIC Center for Economic Education. "For example, in March of last month, those with less than a high school degree had an unemployment rate of 14.5 percent whereas those with a bachelors degree or more has an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent."
Also exacerbating the Black unemployment rate may be the fact that many of the job areas where Blacks and Latinos tend to concentrate are among the first to lay off or become slow during hard economic times.
"It goes up more rapidly in manufacturing and in construction than it does in service occupations," Chiswick says. He says there are several ways to reduce the unemployment disparity in educational attainment and the second is to increase jobs.
Chiswick's suggestions mirror that of the National Urban League's State of Black America released last month. In a plan to "put America back to work" outlined in the annual report, NUL President and CEO Marc Morial lists "targeted investments for job creation" as the number one means of dealing with unemployment. He also lists job training for the chronically unemployed; greater access to credit to help small businesses and the self-employed to stay afloat; additional counseling relief for people caught in foreclosures; and tax incentives for clean energy companies who employ individuals in hardest hit communities.
Despite noble efforts by the Obama Administration, it appears conditions are worsening for Black Americans. The "Equality Index" comparing the economic status of Blacks and Whites in the SBA report is only 57.4 percent.
Morial explains in a recent column for NNPA: "This reflects an unemployment rate for Blacks that is double that for Whites, a widening of the median household income gap, and the sobering facts that less than half of African-American families own a home compared to three quarters of White families and that Blacks and Hispanics are more than three times as likely as Whites to live below the poverty line."