Code Switch
12:17 pm
Sat August 3, 2013

Jobless Rate Falls For Blacks, But It's Not Good News Yet

Originally published on Sat August 3, 2013 12:46 pm

The labor market continues its recovery; the economy added 162,000 jobs in July and pushed the unemployment rate to a 4.5-year low. After a string of bad news, things seem to be to turning around for African-American workers, too.

"The operative word is growth," says Bill Rodgers, an economist at Rutgers University.

Rodgers is encouraged by the falling unemployment rate. This month it went down to 7.4 percent. Unlike past reports where people were leaving the labor force — which can also cause the numbers to fall — it looks like the unemployment rate fell because people are getting jobs.

That's the average of what Americans are experiencing, however.

"If you're African-American, if you're a young millennial, if you're a person over 50," he says, "You're living a very different story." The unemployment rate for those groups remains high; the rate for blacks is double what it is for whites.

Steady growth is beginning to show up for black workers. The jobless rate for African-Americans fell from 13.7 percent to 12.6 percent this past month.

Yet part of the reason for that drop is African-Americans who are taking jobs at the lower end of the pay scale.

On a warm weekday morning at the Chicago Urban League, a group of 40 job seekers of all ages showed up for an orientation for the Urban League's Workforce Development Program. The young man leading the class had recently been unemployed for seven months.

"Nobody called me back," Kermit Collins says. "I filled out 20-30 applications a day via Internet. I did the follow-up call. I did the protocol. I maybe went on three or four interviews. It wasn't my time to have employment, I should say.
I came here for more help."

Collins, who is a college graduate, was able finally to get a job in keeping with his skills. His boss, Clayton Pryor, says Collins is lucky.

Pryor, who is also the head of the Urban League's Workforce development program, says a lot of workers — especially older African-Americans — have to take jobs they're overqualified for. The jobs that were traditionally set aside for youths — bagger, cashier or entry-level positions — are now being filled by people who are underemployed or otherwise need those jobs to make ends meet.

"Everyone is, unfortunately, sort of shifting out of the middle to either the lower-paying or the very high end," says Linda Barrington, a labor economist at Cornell University. "So we're seeing this hollowing-out of the middle as this recovery continues."

A lot more needs to be done to get the unemployment rate to fall significantly for black workers, Barrington says. There needs to be much more job creation, and she says it has to be sustained for many years.

"We have to get the education rates comparable across different populations," she says. "We have to get people trained and interested in science and technology jobs — and then we have to come back to these questions of bias and prejudice."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The labor market continues its slow but steady recovery. The economy added 162,000 jobs in July. And that pushed the unemployment rate to a four and a half year low. After a string of bad news for African-American workers, things seem to be to turning around there too. Even though the jobless rate for black workers remains stubbornly high, it dropped by more than a full point. NPR's Sonari Glinton reports.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Whenever you talk to economists about the current recovery, they almost always use the words slow and or steady.

BILL RODGERS: Unemployment stayed steady. The operative word is growth.

GLINTON: Bill Rodgers is an economist at Rutgers University. He says he's encouraged by the unemployment rate which continues to fall. This month, it went down to 7.4 percent.

RODGERS: That's the average. That's what the typical American could be experiencing. However, if you African-American, if you're a young millennial, if you're a person over 50, you're living a very different story.

GLINTON: The unemployment rate for those groups remains high. But the jobless rate for African-Americans fell from 13.7 percent to 12.6 percent this past month. Bill Rodgers says that steady growth is beginning to show up for black workers.

RODGERS: Unlike past reports, where people were leaving the labor force, which can cause the unemployment rate to fall, it looks like the unemployment rate was falling because African-Americans in particular, women and even teens were getting jobs. And that's a good news story.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

GLINTON: To find how good the good news story is, I went to the Chicago Urban League. One a warm weekday morning, a group of 40 job seekers of all ages showed up for an orientation for the Urban League's Workforce Development Program.

KERMIT COLLINS: How's everyone doing today? Once again, my name is Kermit Collins, like the frog. It's really easy to remember, pretty hard to forget.

GLINTON: It turns that that young man, Kermit Collins, leading the class on this day, had only recently been unemployed. He was out of work for seven months.

COLLINS: Nobody called me back. I filled out 20, 30 applications a day via Internet. I did the follow-up call. I did the protocol. I maybe went on three or four interviews. It wasn't my time to have employment I should say. So, I came here for more help.

GLINTON: Collins, who's a college graduate, was able finally to get a job in keeping with his skills. His boss, Clayton Pryor, who's the head of the Urban League's Workforce Development Program says Collins is lucky. A lot of workers, especially older African-Americans are taking jobs that they are over qualified for.

CLAYTON PRYOR: The jobs that were traditionally set aside for youth, you know, I want to say, you know, maybe your bagger or, you know, someone who works in a cashier or entry-level positions that, you know, young people traditionally have done are being filled with people who are underemployed or who were out of employment who are taking those jobs to make ends meet.

GLINTON: Part of the reason that the unemployment rate is dropping for African-Americans is that they're taking jobs at the lower end of the pay scale. Linda Barrington is a labor economist at Cornell University. She says that's where a lot of the growth is happening.

LINDA BARRINGTON: What is also happening though is that everyone is, unfortunately, sort of shifting out of the middle to either lower-paying or the very high end. So, we're seeing this hollowing out of the middle as this recovery continues.

GLINTON: But Barrington says the recovery for Blacks is continuing but a lot more needs to be done.

BARRINGTON: We have to get the education rates comparable across different populations. We have to get people trained and interested in science and technology jobs and then we have to come back to these questions of bias and prejudice.

GLINTON: Barrington says to get the unemployment rate to fall significantly for Black workers, which is double what it is for whites, there needs to be much more job creation. And she says it has to be sustained for many years. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.