WASHINGTON – Voters were still waiting to elect the next president of the United States when the Labor Department’s monthly jobs report, issued four days before the election, provided a glimpse into what the American economy might look like over the next four years.
The unemployment rate increased from 7.8 percent in September to 7.9 percent in October, but economists say that it was for all the right reasons. More workers rejoined the labor force and the economy added 171,000 jobs. In additional good news, the Labor Department amended the August jobs number from 142,000 to 192,000 and the September figures from 114,000 to 148,000.
Even with the uptick in the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent, economists point out that more people joined the labor force, which signals that “discouraged workers” are getting back in the game.
“If you’re out there looking for work and there is none, it’s harder to keep trying,” said Tim Sullivan, federal policy coordinator for United for a Fair Economy, a nonpartisan organization that promotes economic justice and equality. “Even, if you’ve stopped looking for work and you find out that your friend got a job you think, ‘Okay, well, maybe I can, too.’”
As more Americans find work and the economy climbs slowly out of the Great Recession, some economists wonder if the depression in the Black community will ever be addressed.
The Black unemployment rate increased from the September mark of 13.4 percent to 14.3 percent compared while the White unemployment rate that remained unchanged from over that period at 7 percent.
“It points out a glaring moral failing for the country that a lot of people would prefer to just ignore,” said Sullivan. “It’s easier to say that we live in a post-racial country. It’s easier to ignore it than to confront it.”
Economists caution against looking at the unemployment rate in a bubble, however. The share of the Black population that was employed improved from 53 percent in September to 53.4 percent in October. The share of the White population that was employed in October was 59.5 percent, a slight increase from the 59.4 percent in September.
The share of Black men with jobs increased from 57.5 percent in September to 58.1 percent in October compared to the share of White men, which saw a slight increase from September (59.4 percent to 59.5 percent).
However, the unemployment rate for Black women jumped from 10.9 percent in September to 12.4 percent in October, much of it attributed to the number of Black women looking for work. Like Black men, the share of Black women that found work also increased from 55.3 percent to 55.9 percent. The unemployment rate for White women didn’t change in October (6.3 percent) and the share of White women that were employed decreased slightly, from 55 percent in September to 54.9 percent in October.
Although the number of jobs created in October exceeded expectations, economists say that the economy is still years away from the pre-recession unemployment rates that Americans enjoyed in 2006 and 2007.
“A strong unemployment rate is going to be somewhere between 4 and 5 percent,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C.
To reach the mark in five years, 230,000 jobs would need to be created every month.
Shierholz said that the damage was so severe from the Great Recession that the economy would have to add 330,000 jobs every single month for three years just to get back to a 5 percent unemployment rate.
She said, “We always need to keep in mind just how far we have to go.”
By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent