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Featured Issues >> Employment Statistics
Employment is the primary source of income for most Americans, and employment income has always played a significant role in the economic well-being of low-income families as well.
Like other indicators of social and economic well-being, stark differences in employment and unemployment rates exist along lines of race and gender. African Americans have historically and continue to experience much higher rates of unemployment and lower rates of employment than their white counterparts, a fact that can be easily obscured by the overall numbers.
Each month, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the previous month’s employment and unemployment numbers, CFFPP posts the overall rates and highlights the rates for African American men, women, and teenagers.
The unemployment rate reflects the percentage of Americans without work who actively sought employment in the previous month. People who have been discouraged from searching or who work part-time but would prefer to work full-time are not included.
Total unemployment rate: 6.1% (compared to 6.3 in April and May)
|White Americans||African Americans|
|Men - unemployment||4.9||10.9|
|16-19 year olds||18.9||33.4|
The employment rate is the percentage of the civilian labor force that is employed.
| June 2014
Total employment-population ratio: 59.0% (compared to 58.9 in May)
|White Americans||African Americans|
|Men - employment||68.8||60.1|
|Women - employment||55.2||55.9|
|16-19 year olds||29.3||16.8|
The jobs story for white adults remains mostly unchanged in June, with numbers that continue to hold steady. The employment picture for African American adults, on the other hand, appears to have improved. The percentage of black adults with a job is the highest it has been since February 2009, and the unemployment rate dropped below 11 percent for the first time since August 2008.
Robert Reich (former Secretary of Labor and current Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies) cautions against feeling overly optimistic. He assesses that more and more of the jobs being added to the economy are part-time, rather than full-time positions.
Unemployment numbers of note:
- June is the first time the employment-to-population ratio for African American men has been over 60 percent since January 2009.
- The unemployment rate for black women is currently its lowest since 2009, however, more women were in the labor force five years ago. In other words, at least part of the decline in unemployment is the result of fewer women looking for work.
- Despite these improvements, the numbers for African American adults remain worse than white Americans experienced at the lowest point of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate for black adults is currently 10.7 percent, and is below 11 percent for the first time since August 2008. By contrast, the unemployment rate for white Americans has never reached 10 percent in the 21st Century. At its highest, white unemployment reached 9.2 percent (Oct/Nov 2009) while black unemployment rose to 16.9 percent (March 2010).
- Black men and women remain unemployed at rates more than twice that of their white counterparts. The Economic Policy Institute recently wrote about this issue, concluding that part of the reason for this disparity in unemployment is that more white Americans have dropped out of the labor force, while African Americans continue to search for work.
- In June, the unemployment rates for white and black teens rose by 2.0 and 3.3 percentage points, respectively.
- 1 in 3 black teens is actively looking for work (33.4%), while approximately
1 in 6 is employed (16.8%). Comparatively, fewer than 1 in 5 white teens (18.9%) is searching for a job, and nearly 1 in 3 is employed (29.4%).
- African American teens consistently have the lowest rate of employment, despite also having extremely high unemployment rates. This suggests that black teens are looking for work at high rates, but are disproportionately not securing jobs.
- White and black women are employed at similar rates, but a greater number of black women are still looking for work. Despite dropping a full percentage point in June, the unemployment rate for black women (9.0 percent) remains nearly double the rate for white women (4.8). The percentage of people working or looking for work differs by 3.4 points between these groups.
- Men are employed at higher rates than women, and the difference between these rates is much narrower for black adults. The difference in employment-population ratios between white men and women is 13.6 percentage points, compared to 4.2 points between African American adults.
Overall, the news about (un)employment remains the same:
- the United States needs to create more jobs for the millions of Americans who are out of work, and
- declines in unemployment have largely been driven by people dropping out of the labor force.
As of June, 3.1 million unemployed Americans have been actively looking for work for more than 6 months. An additional 2 million people remain marginally attached to the labor force, which means that they are unemployed, interested in and available to work, but they did not actively search for a job in the past month and are not included in the official unemployment numbers.
A primary reason the unemployment rate is lower today than in recent years is because fewer people are looking for work. If a person becomes discouraged in their job search and stops looking, they are not counted in the unemployment rate.
Americans need more jobs, and we need to invest in policies that create jobs, including Unemployment Insurance, food stamps (SNAP), and other economic support programs for low-income families and individuals. Providing resources to those who are currently unemployed or under-employed puts money into the economy, which in turn supports jobs and generates job growth.
Highs and lows:
- The unemployment rate for black men peaked at 19.2% in March 2010 and has not dropped below 10% in more than six years (since June 2008). In June, the unemployment rate for black women dropped below 10% for the first time since January 2009.
- By comparison, the highest rate of unemployment for white men peaked at 9.6% (Oct. and Nov. 2009) and 7.6 percent for white women (Nov. 2010). Again, these numbers reflect the percentage of people actively looking for work.
Looking back on 2013:
- Unemployment rates declined slightly for white Americans over the course of 2013. The overall rate started out at 7.1 percent in January and dropped to 5.9 in December (1.2 points lower). White men started 2013 at 6.7 percent and ended at 5.6 (1.1 points lower), and for white women, the numbers declined by 1 point, from a high of 6.3 to 5.3 percent.
- Unemployment rates for African Americans also declined over 2013. The overall rate started at 13.8 percent in January and ended at 11.9 (1.9 points lower) in December. The numbers fluctuated more for African American men over the course of the year. Whereas other groups largely experienced a decline throughout the year, the unemployment rate for black men started at 13.3 percent in January and rose to 14.1 percent before dropping to 11.5 in December (1.8 points lower than Jan). The rate for African American women was 12.3 in January and declined 1.9 points to 10.4 percent at the end of the year.
- Every adult group also ended the year with a lower labor force participation rate, which counts people who are either working or actively seeking work. When more people are working or when fewer people are looking for work, the unemployment rate is lower. The employment-population ratio held relatively steady over 2013, indicating that unemployment is declining because fewer people are looking for work, not because more people are working. Chad Stone from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights this issue in his Statement on the December Employment Report.
If you have comments or questions about about the monthly employment numbers, please contact Jill Groblewski.