On the first Friday of every month, I report on the nation’s employment situation. The data is important, and politicians, policymakers and the public take it all very seriously, as well they should. But I constantly remind people that the data in the monthly report is a snapshot . . . and that we need to take a wide look at the numbers to see the full picture.
Last week’s employment report is a good example. While our rate of job growth slowed in May, we did add 83,000 private sector jobs. But look at it more broadly: We’ve now had 15 straight months of private sector job growth and added 2.1 million jobs since February 2010.
Getting the big picture and taking a wide view of the trends is important, especially when we drill down into the data: What’s happening with women in the labor force? How are African Americans and Hispanics faring? What’s the story on youth employment?
That’s why we recently produced in-depth reports that examine the status of women and Hispanics in our labor force. Our newest report, The Black Labor Force in the Recovery, came out earlier this week. All three highlight how vulnerable demographic groups have fared in our economic recovery; and detail the investments and policy initiatives we’ve put in place to support their advancement.
The unemployment rate for black workers remains unacceptably high at 16.2%. African American workers are more likely to work in the public sector than either white or Latino workers, so they’ve faced more of the burden of the continuing loss of state and local government jobs. Black employment took the largest hit in manufacturing, financial activities, wholesale/retail trade, transportation/warehousing, and construction. But industries like transportation, warehousing and health care employ a large share of black workers and are growing. We need to match the skills needed in these areas to more African American workers, and then match those people to the growing number of jobs in those industries.
We also know that jobs in professional and technical services are expected to grow the fastest by 2018, but blacks are underrepresented in these industries. Again, we need to match skills with workers, and then match these workers with real jobs.
The report spotlights a particular concern for me: the high rate of black teen unemployment. In May 2011, the black teen unemployment rate was 40.7%. While this rate is still unacceptably high, it is improving, having come down from nearly 50%. And there is a bright spot: more African-American youth are staying in school and going to college. More education means less unemployment and higher wages.
I understand the severity of the employment challenges faced by African-Americans. The President does too. The administration has taken a number of steps to help get more black workers into jobs. The report provides a summary of my agency’s efforts to turn the numbers around. It is an impressive record of achievement, but we still have much work to do.
The challenge we face is to ensure that economic recovery includes all communities. For me, that means ensuring that our programs and grants are inclusive and provide opportunity for a diverse American workforce. We’re doing that.