Economic recovery eludes Black workers

FREDDIE ALLEN | 4/13/2015, 9:58 a.m.
The slow-moving, uneven economic recovery continues to elude Black workers and some economists predict that even with a falling unemployment ...
Valerie Wilson NNPA

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The slow-moving, uneven economic recovery continues to elude Black workers and some economists predict that even with a falling unemployment rate, at the end of 2015, Blacks will still be further away from full recovery than Whites.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on low- and middle-income families, said that in the fourth quarter of 2014, the national unemployment rate for Whites was “within 1 percentage point of pre-recession levels, while the Black unemployment rate was 2.4 percentage points higher than it was at the end of 2007.”

The report also explained that, “True labor market improvements are more likely in those states experiencing both unemployment declines and increases in the share of workers employed,” also known as the employment-population ratio or EPOP ratio.

The study continued: “On the other hand, declining unemployment in those states without increasing shares of workers employed may suggest workers are simply dropping out of the labor force.”

Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy for EPI, analyzed 2014 data for the unemployment rate, the EPOP ratio, and the long-term unemployment rate, and said that using the unemployment rate to determine the health of the labor market may be overstating the progress of the economic recovery in the U.S.

“Between 2013 and 2014, the annual black unemployment rate declined most in Arkansas (6.5 percentage points), Indiana (4.6 percentage points), and Tennessee (3.6 percentage points). Of these, only Arkansas had a significantly higher Black employment-to-population ratio in 2014 (from 46.8 to 50.1 percent),” the EPI report stated. “Among states for which reliable estimates could be calculated, 15 states experienced a significant decline in the Black unemployment rate between 2013 and 2014 and in six of those states the Black EPOP increased. On the other hand, between 2013 and 2014 the Black unemployment rate significantly increased in Missouri (3.2 percentage points) and Wisconsin (4.8 percentage points).”

With a Black population of 6.5 percent, Wisconsin recorded the highest annual jobless rate for Blacks in the U.S. in 2014 (19.9 percent).

Paul Randus, a columnist for MarketWatch.com, said that Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a Republican presidential hopeful, is known nationally, “as the governor who eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions in Wisconsin – and then beat back a recall motion over it.”

Randus wrote, “The win further emboldened Walker,” and that the governor recently signed a “right to work bill” that economists say will chip away at labor union power in the state. The policies were supposed to spur job and business growth, but the governor has fallen almost 100,000 jobs short of his 2010 pledge to create 250,000 jobs during his first term.

The anti-union policies in Wisconsin are a big problem for both White and Black workers in the Badger State, Wilson said.

Even though Black workers in Virginia (19.7 percent Black population) experienced the lowest annual Black jobless rate in 2014 at 8 percent, it was still, “higher than the highest White rate of 7 percent in Nevada,” the EPI report stated. In the fourth quarter of last year, the 11 percent Black unemployment rate was, “higher than the national unemployment rate at the peak of the recession (9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009).”