Federal data shows troubling unemployment, underemployment trends

Less than half of African-American men now have full-time jobs, and less than half of all white men will have full-time jobs in 2018, according to post-2000 trends hidden in federal population and workforce data.

There are roughly 14 million people formally labeled as unemployed, but “there’s probably 22 million to 23 million people who are unemployed, mal-employed or underemployed,” said Andrew Sum, an economics professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

The hidden data shows that “we’ve got an overwhelming job gap that effects men more than women, less-educated men more then better-educated men, and the group aged 25 to 29 the most,” he said.

One startling result, he said, is that only 43 percent of African-American men aged 18 to 29 have a full-time job.

This trend is obvious to T. Willard Fair, head of the Urban League of Greater Miami. He recently advertised two janitorial jobs via the unemployment office in his local town Liberty City. The city is 85 percent African-American, yet “only 2 of the 33 applicants were African-American,” he said. “The remainder were Hispanics or Haitians.”

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“People want to work, and if they can find jobs, they would take those jobs … [but] blacks are no longer even applying for those kinds of jobs, or have concluded they’re not going to get those jobs,” he said.

There’s recently been a run of bad news about unemployment trends. That’s damaged the White House’s poll ratings, but the federal government’s unemployment estimate — now 9.1 percent — counts only a portion of the nation’s non-working population. That’s because the 9.1 percent counts only people who have sought work in the last four weeks, and have failed to find employment of 35 hours or more per week.

The count obscures the fact that many people have unwillingly ended their participation in the workforce.

The “employment population ratio” is a standard economic term that describes the percentage of work-ready people people who do have jobs. It ignores people who can’t work because they are in prison, nursing homes or full-time education.

In practice, the ratio of working people can’t go much higher than 85 percent because some of the people who can work chose to retire, or to consume savings or to rely on government payments.

In 2000, the employment-population ratio for male, black university graduates reached a high of 81 percent, or 87 percent if the calculation included graduates working in part-time jobs. That full-employment came at the tail end of the bubble — which burst in 2001 — and before the midpoint of an immigration wave.

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At least 15 million legal and illegal immigrants, mostly young and unskilled, entered the country between 1994 and 2007.

Since 2000, for most groups, for most of the time, the employment population ratio has continuously fallen to levels far below 80 percent, even before the current recession, according to the government data that was analyzed and sent to TheDC by Northeastern’s Sum.

The full-time employment population ratio for white men fell from 62 percent in 2000 to 55 percent by 2010. That’s a drop of 7 percent in 10 years, or 0.7 percent a year. If that drop continues at the same rate, less than half of whites will be working by 2018.

If part-time workers are included, the ratio started at 74 percent in 2000 and fell to 67 percent in 2010.

Among all African-American men aged more than 16, the full-time ratio fell from 56.9 percent in 2000 to 46.4 percent in 2010. The inclusion of part-time work bumps the ratio upwards, but the ratio still fell from 67 percent to 58 percent in 2010.

Full-time employment ratio