The U.S. Labor Department reported on Friday that unemployment for African Americans increased to 16.3% in August 2010 from 15.6% in July 2010. The percentage point increase was greater than it was for Whites and Hispanics. Overall unemployment climbed to 9.6% for the month of August from the July unemployment rate of 9.5%.
The unemployment rate is defined as that portion of the labor force that is unemployed and actively seeking work. The labor force is comprised of all people over the age of 16 that are either working for pay or actively seeking work for pay.
So why is unemployment rising? According to the Labor Department, part of the reason for the overall increase in the unemployment rate may be that more people have entered the labor force in reaction to news that the economy is getting better. This may be the particular case for Black Americans as well.
The other argument is that Americans may not be qualified for the jobs that are currently available, or for the jobs that are expected to open up sometime in the near future. For example, in a recent interview with CNBC, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis stated that future employment in infrastructure development and clean energy will require a high skill level, meaning that a number of currently unemployed workers will have to be retrained.
A large number of African Americans have been leaving the labor force over the last two years. For example, there were approximately 15,953,000 Blacks in the labor force in 2008. At the end of 2009, however, there were only 15,025,000. During the same period of time, the percentage of African Americans employed in construction, maintenance, production, and transportation fell.
In 2008, 16.2% of African Americans were employed in production, transportation, or material moving occupations. That percentage fell to 14.3% in 2009.
Also in 2008, the percentage of African Americans employed in natural resources, construction, or maintenance was 6.4%, but this percentage fell to 6.1% in 2009.
On the other hand, the percentage of African Americans in management, professional, and other related occupations increased to 29.2% in 2009 from 27.4% in 2008. The area of service occupations saw an increase as well, with the percentage of African Americans increasing from 24.4% in 2008 to 25.2% in 2009.
On Labor Day, President Obama made a renewed call in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for infrastructure investment. Mr. Obama wants Congress to approve a six-year plan for constructing 150,000 miles of roadways; 4,000 miles of rail; and 150 miles of runways. Mr. Obama, realizes that more has to be done to spark the economy.