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African-American jobless rate surges

Friday, July 6, 2012 - 10:26am

As the overall U.S. unemployment rate stayed at 8.2% in June, the rate among black Americans rose nearly a full percentage point.

The reason for the increase appears to have been a rise in the percentage of African-Americans looking for a job, rather than job losses.

The unemployment rate for blacks rose to 14.4% from 13.6% in May, the Labor Department reported Friday. That's a sharp contrast to the white unemployment rate, which stayed put at 7.4%, and the Hispanic rate, which held at 11%.

This trend is not a new one, as the black unemployment rate has been roughly double that of whites since the government started tracking the figures in 1972. But Algernon Austin, director of the the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, attributes the rise in the rate to more black Americans entering the workforce, not to job losses or more people out of work. The percentage of eligible African-Americans holding or seeking a job rose in June to 62% from 61.3% in May. It was the second straight month that the percentage has increased.

The employment-population ratio, which measures the proportion of the population that's employed, also rose slightly in June.

"More people wanting work is what really pushed up the unemployment rate for blacks. That's a good thing," Austin said. "You want people to participate in the labor force." But as the number of people looking for jobs has risen, they face a lukewarm job market that is struggling to create growth.

"The unemployment rate isn't what we should pay attention to," Austin said. "What you really want is jobs, so that when people enter the labor market, they can get employed."

 

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