Federal data shows troubling unemployment, underemployment trends

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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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


People with extra education qualifications are more likely to be working than those with few skills or qualifications. For example, the full-time employment-population ratio for whites without high-school qualifications fell from a 2000 high of 35 percent to a 2010 low of only 27 percent. With part-time work included, the 2010 ratio for white dropouts was 39 percent.

Among blacks who also left high school without qualifications, the full-time ratio fell from 30 percent to a mere 21 percent. That means only one-in-five male African-American high-school dropouts has a full-time job. If part-time work is included, the ratio for male African-American dropouts began at 40 percent in 2000, and fell to 31 percent by 2010.

In contrast, 76 percent of male African-American university graduates had a full-time job in 2002, and 64.5 percent still had a full-time job in 2010.

Ratios are also lower among younger workers.

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For all men age 25 to 29, the ratio fell from 89 percent in 2000 to 78 percent in 2010. That’s an 11 point drop, and almost twice as much as the 6-point drop among similar-aged women, whose ratio fell from 74 percent to 68 percent over the same period. The ratio among all black males aged 25 to 29, fell from 77.3 percent to 63 percent in 2010. For black males aged 20 to 24, the ratio fell from 65 percent to 54 percent.

That steep decline among younger people is especially painful, said Sum, because it takes many years for unemployed youths to catch up to the experience and wages of steadily employed peers. In turn, that earning shortfall makes it less likely they will marry the women they make pregnant, and less likely they’ll serve as beneficial fathers to their children, and more likely their children will fall even further behind, he said.

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The employment ratio among whites is usually higher than the ratio among blacks, but both are trending downwards. The ratio among the Hispanic population usually fall somewhere between Caucasian and African-American ratios.

But the Hispanic numbers conceals an significant split. The workforce ratio of U.S.-born Hispanics is lower than that of immigrant Hispanics, according to government data shown by Steve Camarota, a researcher at the Center for Immigration Studies.

For example, in late 2010, almost 40 percent of U.S.-born Hispanic high-school dropouts grads unemployed, but also 30 percent of immigrant Hispanic dropouts were unemployed. Among 18-29 year-old high school grads, the unemployment rate for U.S.-born Hispanics was 35 percent. Among similar Hispanic immigrants, the unemployment rate was 27 percent.

Employment and high education


South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the most influential African-American legislator in Congress, has been an outspoken advocates for programs designed to boost employment among African-Americans and other workers. He’s now trying to pass language that would require every federal agency direct 10 percent of their budgets to counties that have 20 percent of their populations living below the poverty line for 30 years.

“If targeted investments are made in these communities, we will begin to see a turn-around in the unemployment rate of all minority groups,” Clyburn said in a statement to TheDC.

He’s also pushing a “Rural Energy Savings Program Act” that will offer rural residents loans of up to $7,500 for home modifications that conserve energy. The bill would “create high-skill, high-wage manufacturing and construction jobs and deliver meaningful energy savings for consumers that will put money directly into their wallets,” he said in the statement.

When asked about the impact of 15 million immigrants on the workforce, Clyburn spokesman responded that “the Congressman doesn’t believe immigration plays a role in this systemic problem.”

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But immigration is central to the problem, said Sum and Camarota.

Those 15 million immigrants, said Sum, arrived during a period when the U.S. produced only 15 million additional jobs.

Immigrants, especially Hispanic immigrants, can win new jobs quickly because they’re more motivated than U.S.-born workers and because they’re often directly recruited for new jobs by informal transnational networks, said Camarota. They’re also freer to move to any part of the country where new jobs are appearing, unlike citizens, who tend to stay in the communities they know, even when there are few jobs.

In Congress, the Reclaim Americans Jobs Caucus was formed in 2010 by Republican Reps. Lamar Smith, Gary Miller and Sue Myrick to boost enforcement of immigration rules. “Seven million illegal immigrants have jobs in our economy … [that] should go to U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers,” said a caucus statement.

Clyburn and other African-American legislators in the Congressional Black Caucus are avoiding the immigration issue because they’ve made a strategic alliance with Hispanic activists and legislators, said Carol Swain, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s law school.

“They don’t want to talk about the issue … [and] every single CBC member wants to change the subject,” said Swain, whose new book, “Be The People; A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise” will be published June 14.

The book has chapters on immigration and on how African-American political activists “have deceived large number of African-Americans to support policies that are against their interests,” she said.

Down on the streets, Fair said, African-Americans are strongly opposed to immigration.

“Out of earshot of others, when you can scratch that itch,” he said, “The conversation is hostile … [and] they blame their leadership for not doing anything about it.”

Elise Young contributed to this report.