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Unemployment Numbers Still Disheartening For African-Americans

The nation’s overall unemployment rate has slipped to its lowest number in four years, but finding jobs continues to be a struggle for African-Americans, according to Bureau of Labor statistics figures released on Friday.

Most of America took heart in seeing the percentage of Americans out of work dip to 7.7 percent, its lowest total since December 2008.

But the news will likely come as little consolation to black men, whose unemployment rate is absurdly high at 13 percent or African-American youth aged 16-19, whose unemployment rates of just under 40 percent. Both figures are nearly double that of their white counterparts.

The news is still an improvement from a year earlier in November 2011, when the unemployment among men ran better than a staggering 16 percent as African-Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by the shrinking public sector.

Overall, employers added a better-than-expected 146,000 jobs in November, providing further evidence of an economy that continues to show resilience.

But the numbers were buoyed by the dispirited 350,000 Americans who left the labor force, which includes people working and looking for work, the government said.

Businesses added 147,000 workers, while state, local and federal governments cut 1,000. Retailers, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality led the job gains.

The government revised down job gains for September and October by a total 49,000. September’s additions were revised from 148,000 to 132,000 and October’s, from 171,000 to 138,000

Instead of hiring more workers, Labor figures show businesses are piling more overtime on existing employees. Productivity, or output per labor hour, rose a solid 2.9 percent in the third quarter – a trend that isn’t likely to continue and will likely lead to more hiring next year after the so-called “fiscal cliff” debate is resolved by politicians in Washington.

Meanwhile, the continuing sharp drop in the unemployment rate – from 8.3% to 7.7% since July – is surprising and at least partly reflects retiring Baby Boomers, says Chief U.S. Economist Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics.

A shrinking labor force, however, does not bode well for economic growth because retirees have less spending power.

Other barometers of the labor market were mixed. The average workweek in November was unchanged at 34.4 hours for the fifth straight month. As workloads increase, employers typically increase the hours of employees before adding new ones. And average hourly earnings rose four cents to $23.63.

More encouraging was the addition of 18,000 temporary workers. The growth of such contingent workers also tends to foreshadow a pickup in hiring.

The underemployment rate – a broader measure of joblessness that includes the unemployed as well as part-time workers who prefer full-time jobs and discouraged workers who stopped looking – dipped to 14.4 percent from 14.6 percent.

And the number of people out of work at least six months fell by 216,000 to 4.8 million. These long-term unemployed still represent 40.1 percent of all jobless Americans.

Retailers led job gains with 53,000, indicating strong holiday hiring. Professional and business services added 43,000 jobs, leisure and hospitality added 23,000 and education and health services added 18,000

But the construction industry cut 20,000 jobs and manufacturers, which have seen their exports fall amid the economic slowdown in Europe, trimmed 7,000.

Monthly job gains have averaged 151,000 this year, in line with 153,000 in 2011.

Recent economic reports have been mixed. Manufacturing activity contracted in November, but service activity picked up, reports this week showed. Rising home prices have helped buoy consumer confidence and retail sales.

The economy would have to add about 12.8 million jobs over the next three years – about 356,000 each month – to bring unemployment down to 6 percent. That would require GDP growth in the range of four to five percent.

Overall, the U.S. labor market has still not completely recovered from the financial crisis in late 2008. Of the 8.8 million jobs lost, about 4.2 million have still not been added back.

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