While Wall Street and economists celebrated the drop in the national unemployment rate to a five-year low of 7 percent, African-American lawmakers in Washington, D.C., expressed frustration that the Black jobless rate still lingers well into the double digits, though it also fell from 13.1 percent in October to 12.5 percent in November.
On the news that the U.S. rate was its lowest since November 2008 and that 203,000 jobs were created last month, which is more than predicted, the financial markets had a robust response. The Dow Jones Industrial Average spiked by nearly 200 points.
There was good news all around for the national economy and the White House, as the Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment insurance fell to 298,000, the lowest since May 2007 and a sign that businesses are laying off fewer workers.
“Job growth appears to be picking up,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics and co-author of the ADP jobs report.
One of the mainstays of the Obama years has been the notion that when the economy picks up in general, African-Americans will be swept up in the good tidings.
However, that has not been the case. Though the Black unemployment rate dropped last month, it remains nearly double the overall rate—a fact the Black community has dealt with for decades.
In an interview with BET.com, a visibly angry Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Missouri), a staunch Obama supporters, said Black unemployment has been “ignored.”
Cleaver joined his Republican colleagues in guessing that the jobless rate was dropping because so many people had stopped looking for work.
He said if any other group had a jobless rate as high as African-Americans, “a national crisis would have been declared.”
“Far too many African-Americans have been out of work chronically and when they do get re-employed, it’s generally at a significantly lower wage,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) told BET.com. “In addition, their skill sets begin to deteriorate. It’s a national pressing issue and I don’t believe we’ve done enough about it.”
The rate among Black young people is particularly disturbing, as youth unemployment leads to many other social problems. Nearly 1 in 4 Black 16- to 24-year-olds was out of work in November, compared to only about 1 in 10 white workers in the same age group.
For 25- to 34-year-olds, the numbers are actually getting worse rather than better: In November 2013 Black workers aged 25 to 34 had an unemployment rate of 13.6 percent, while the number was 12.7 percent in November 2012.
For white workers in the same age group, the jobless rate is only 5.9 percent.