For three straight months, the U.S. economy has added more than 25,000 jobs, spurring hopes the unemployment rate for blacks may dip below 10 percent by midway through 2015.
This projection comes via economist Valerie Wilson, director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at Economic Policy Institute. Analyzing data from December 2013 to December 2014, Wilson found that the jump in labor force participation — a measure of how many people are employed or looking for work — was greater for blacks than for any other ethnic group.
Recent figures also paint a rosy picture. In December, the black jobless rate fell from November’s 11 percent to 10.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the unemployment rate for black males over the age of 20 dropped from 11.2 percent to 11 percent. Black women in that same age range, meanwhile, saw their unemployment percentage dip from 9.5 to 8.2. While the nation remains plagued by widespread employment disparities — the jobless rate for white workers in December 2014 stood at a mere 4.8 percent — Wilson sees the data as proof that recovery in the black community is strong.
“If the same trends in the labor force participation rate and the decline in the unemployment rate that we saw in 2014 continue into 2015, the black unemployment rate should get down to the single digits by the middle of this year,” said Wilson, according to the Charlotte Post.
Bernard Anderson, a noted economist and professor emeritus at the Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says employment is growing faster now than it has at any point since 2009, when America began its recovery from the Great Recession. Unfortunately, Anderson says, even as the economy continues its remarkable rebound — in the third quarter of 2014, GDP rose 5 percent — wages aren’t necessarily keeping pace.
“We have an anomalous situation in the labor market where employment is beginning to rise, but earnings are still relatively flat,” Anderson said, according to the Charlotte Post. “In fact, average hourly earnings for all employees shed a nickel in December.”
Not surprisingly, anemic wage growth tends to hurt those the lowest earners, and according to Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Economic Policy Institute, wages for the bottom 70 percent has been “essentially stagnant” since the 1970s. From 2009 to 2013, he says, real wages actually fell for the lowest 90 percent.
Going forward, competition among companies for workers could finally push wages higher, and Mishel says unionization may also play a key role for blacks. Data shows that rates of union membership among blacks is higher than it is for any other group, and in 2012, 13.1 percent of America’s union members were black.
Mishel credits unions with driving up wages without harming overall economic efficiency, as many charge.
“Collective bargaining also leads to a larger share of corporate income going to wages rather than profits; the fact that corporate profits are at historic highs is a reflection, in part, of the current weakness of collective bargaining and the heightened power of corporate owners and managers,” Mishel wrote at EPI.org.