Today’s employment report has largely been seen as positive news, and for good reason. Two-hundred twenty-seven thousand new jobs were created in February, and the previous month’s employment figures were also revised upwards, making the gains even more impressive than previously thought. Despite this fact, headline unemployment rate number remained unchanged at 8.3 percent. How could this be?
It’s because the participation rate, which measures the percentage of working-age individuals who are employed or unemployed and looking for a job, actually increased in February, after falling in January. That is to say, that while there are more people finding jobs, there are also more looking for jobs than before. This can also be seen as a positive indicator, as it means that people have more hope that jobs are available than they did previously.
Unfortunately, black unemployment actually increased from 13.6 percent to 14.1 percent. This is distressing, for obvious reasons, and to see the positive momentum that occurred last month come to a halt, while the rest of the economy continued to tread water at worst, speaks to the fragile state of the recovery in the black community.
That being said, part of the rise in the black unemployment rate, as with the broader economy, is due to an increase in the participation rate in the black community. In fact, when analyzing another key indicator, the employment-population ratio, the percentage of working age people who were working was essentially flat.
This context is not meant to excuse the fact that black communities still experience extremely high levels of unemployment, especially in specifically distressed areas of the country, nor that the gap between black unemployment and the rest of the country is not closing fast enough.
In fact, there remain some ominous signs when looking beneath the headline numbers. Most alarmingly, unemployment increased substantially for black males in February to 14.3 percent, up from 12.7 percent in January — this despite the fact that the participation rate and employment-population ratio both decreased.
That is to say, the black male unemployment is climbing, even as the percentage of working-age black males who are actively looking for work is falling. That should raise a lot of eyebrows in our communities, as well as in Washington.