February 20, 2009

Minorities and the Labor Market in the Recession by the Numbers

By Amanda Logan

WASHINGTON — The economy shed 598,000 jobs in January alone, and the nation’s unemployment rate reached 7.6 percent for the first time in more than 16 years. Since the beginning of the recession in December 2007, the economy has lost a staggering 3.6 million jobs—1.8 million in just the last three months—while the unemployment rate has jumped 2.7 percentage points. Even before the recession struck, minorities faced a more precarious economic situation than whites, especially in the labor market. Naow, 13 months into the downturn, it is clear that they have been hit hard.

The following numbers* highlight the dramatic losses in employment that have battered Hispanics, African Americans, and whites since the recession began. The grim reality underscores the need for the economic recovery package that Congress and the president enacted yesterday.

The unemployment rate has steadily risen for all groups.

· 9.7 percent: The unemployment rate for Hispanics in January 2009, an increase of 3.5 percentage points from December 2007 and the highest level since 1995.

· 12.6 percent: The unemployment rate for African Americans in January 2009, an increase of 3.7 percentage points since December 2007 and the highest level since 1994.

· 6.9 percent: The unemployment rate for whites, an increase of 2.5 percentage points since December 2007 and the highest level since 1983.

· 57.1 percent: The increase in the number of unemployed Hispanic workers between December 2007 and January 2009. In January 2009, 2.1 million Hispanics were unemployed in the United States.

· 43.8 percent: The increase in the number of unemployed African Americans from December 2007 to January 2009. In January 2009, 2.2 million African Americans were unemployed.

· 58.0 percent: The increase in the number of unemployed whites between December 2007 and January 2009. In January 2009, there were 8.6 million unemployed whites in America.

The share of the population that has a job has fallen to levels not seen in more than a decade.

· 61.1 percent: The share of the Hispanic population that was employed in January 2009, 3.2 percentage points lower than in December 2007 and the lowest level since 1996.

· 55.4 percent: The share of the African-American population that had a job in January 2009, 2.4 percentage points lower than in December 2007 and the lowest level since 1994.

· 61.3 percent: The share of the white population that had a job in January 2009, 2.1 percentage points lower than in December 2007 and the lowest level since 1986.

Large earnings gaps persist between whites and minorities.

· $535: The usual median weekly earnings of Hispanic workers in the fourth quarter of 2008 (in 2008 dollars)—$207.20 less than white workers’ usual median weekly earnings during the same period.

· $593: The usual median weekly earnings of African American workers in the fourth quarter of 2008 (in 2008 dollars)—$148.57 less than white workers’ usual median weekly earnings during the same period.

· $748: The usual median weekly earnings of white workers in the fourth quarter of 2008 (in 2008 dollars).

The recovery and investment bill that President Barack Obama signed into law yesterday will help the U.S. economy avert a continuation of the recent downward spiral. An important part of stimulating the economy is stopping the massive job losses and spurring new job growth.

It may be many months before the labor market and overall economy begin to feel “on track” again for America’s families. With the right policies in place—those that encourage the growth of good jobs with higher wages and better benefits and lay the foundation for long-term, broadly shared economic growth—minority workers can begin to strengthen their financial security and see their labor market experience improve.

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