Though the unemployment rate fell slightly in January, economists are still troubled that only 113,000 jobs were added last month, prompting the usual fears that the job market is not chugging along at the clip everyone was hoping.
While the unemployment rate for Blacks dropped from 12.5 percent to 11.9 percent in December, labor experts believe the rate likely went down not because more African-Americans are finding jobs, but because discouraged workers have simply stopped looking.
That explanation becomes even more depressing for the Black community considering that Congress still appears unable to find enough support to pass an extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed, meaning 1.3 million people of all races are now in dire straits because they have no money coming into their households as their benefits ended on Dec. 28.
Economists had been hoping the economy would gain 180,000 positions last month, but apparently it fell far short.
The national unemployment rate in January was 6.6 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in December.
Though private employers added 142,000 positions to their payrolls in January, at the same time government at all levels shed 29,000 jobs—mostly in education and the Postal Service. There was a jump in construction of 48,000 jobs and a gain in manufacturing of 21,000 jobs.
Experts believe the excessively cold winter weather conditions might be holding down hiring.
The 113,000 jobs added in January were far fewer than the average monthly gain of 194,000 last year. In the last three months, job gains have averaged just 154,000—lower than the 201,000 in the preceding three.
Investors and economists fear this all means the U.S. job market is weakening again, along with sectors like manufacturing and retail sales in the United States and abroad.
Automakers said sales slipped 3 percent in January and last week, a measure of signed contracts to buy homes fell sharply, according to the National Association of Realtors.
But amid the skepticism, there is hope: As more people began looking for work in January, a sign that they were optimistic about finding work, some of them found jobs, which reduced the unemployment rate to 6.6 percent—the lowest since October 2008.