The U.S. Department of Labor today released its May jobs report, and the story continued to be demoralizing for African Americans — the unemployment rate among blacks rose to 16.2 percent, up ever so slightly from the 16.1 percent reading for April.
The unemployment rate for all Americans rose a tenth of a percent as well, to 9.1 percent.
The increase in unemployment among blacks is especially troubling because it indicates a true lack of available jobs, versus the uptick in that commonly occurs when more people enter the workforce.
That bump commonly occurs because discouraged workers, those who have given up, are not counted as part of the labor force, which includes only people at work or actively looking for work. Ironically, when discouraged workers renew their hunt for jobs, they rejoin the count, the labor force swells, and the unemployment rate often kicks up, even though more people are finding work.
Unfortunately, more African Americans grew discouraged and left the labor force. In May, there were 17.7 million African Americans in the labor force, a decrease from the 17.8 million reported in April. The number of employed African Americans fell to 14.9 million in May, down from April’s 15 million.
The unemployment number may increase as the nation moves into the summer months and more college and high-school graduate scour bulletin boards and classified ads looking for work.
How this affects the 2012 presidential election is at this point unknown, but no incumbent president has been reelected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent.
The timing of Mitt Romney’s announcement that he is running for the Republican nomination signals commentators, analysts, and the electorate that the former Massachusetts governor will focus on jobs and the economy.
Today’s jobs report gives Romney plenty of talking points for this weekend’s TV shows. And when slow job growth is considered along with other issues — $14 trillion in debt, a growing deficit, and tepid growth in gross domestic product — it appears likely that Romney, other Republican candidates and President Barack Obama will be talking economic policy for a long, long time.