|President challenged on idled workforce|
|Economists demand Obama find solutions|
|Published Thursday, February 21, 2013 8:16 am|
WASHINGTON – During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said that millions of Americans have not been rewarded for their hard work and dedication. No where is this sentiment felt more deeply than in the black community where, despite providing 93 percent of their votes to ensure President Obama won a second term last November, blacks have seen little direct action to address depression-level unemployment.
The black unemployment rate decreased slightly from 14 percent in December 2012 to 13.8 percent in January 2013. Meanwhile, the white unemployment rate changed little, from 6.9 percent in December to 7 percent in January. The national unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in January 2013.
Since the Labor Department started tracking employment by race nearly 60 years ago, the black jobless rate has usually been double the rate for Whites. Economists say that racial disparities in hiring and employment continue to persist.
“There’s no other reason to explain the (black unemployment rate) other than racial discrimination against black people in the labor market,” said Bernard Anderson, an economist and professor emeritus at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. “There’s no other explanation. We need to focus on the disparity.”
The racial disparity in the labor market is staggering.
The unemployment rate for black men was 13.4 percent in January 2013, up from the 12.8 percent in January 2012. The unemployment rate for white men was 6.6 percent in January 2013, down from 6.9 percent last January.
At 12.3 percent, the jobless rate for black women in January 2013 was nearly double the 6.4 percent rate for white women in the same month. This time last year, the unemployment rate for black women was 12.5 percent and 6.8 percent for white women.
Black teenagers fare the worse in the labor market by far with a nearly 40 percent unemployment rate compared to 20.8 percent for white teenagers. Experts say that unemployed teenagers miss out on crucial job training experiences that can make it harder for them to find and hold onto jobs throughout their entire lives.
But economists say that Obama’s call for universal pre-kindergarten programs across the nation could begin to address the racial disparities in the labor market and spell more jobs for blacks who work in childcare at higher rates than other worker groups.
Bill Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO and former Assistant Secretary of Labor in Obama’s first term, said that black parents who can’t afford high quality daycare for their young children can also benefit from the president’s push for universal pre-K.
But the president, who has been sharply criticized by Republican governors for provisions in the Affordable Care Act that some claim tread roughly over state laws, may have a tough road ahead.
“The problem is he stated [universal-pre-kindergarten program] as a partnership with the states and it’s not clear how the states are going to pick it up,” said Spriggs. Especially when some Republican governors have already lined up to block increased Medicaid funding to their states as part of the Affordable Care Act and refusing to create state-operated health exchanges.
Spriggs said that Republican governors really like the fact that their small revenue base has forced them to squeeze budgets.
Some economists were looking for more than a “Fix it First” plan that the president touted during his address.
“He did not speak as strongly as he did in the ‘America’s Jobs Act’ about pumping up state and local employment,” said Spriggs. “Local employment continues to fall, we’re still losing teachers – that’s a bigger sector for blacks than it is for whites. Local government and state government employment are significantly more important to black workers and continuing to lose jobs in that area is a big drag and it’s going to continue to put a lot of pressure on trying to get the black unemployment rate down.”
Spriggs suggested that if Congress passes a jobs bill that includes money to increase hiring at the state and local levels, Republican governors would be compelled to take the federal funds.
Anderson said that the black community also has to put pressure on the president to directly address black unemployment and to break the 2:1 gap that exists between blacks and whites.
“You got to put pressure on the president,” Anderson said. “He needs the pressure, he might want the pressure.”
Anderson explained: “You can’t take anything without organization. This is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The rate of unemployment is higher now is than it was 50 years ago. Where’s the march?”
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