By many accounts the job market is bouncing back with a vengeance. The Labor Department reports the economy created 257,000 new jobs in January, with retailers posting the biggest increases. This after a robust 329,000 in job gains in December, and a 429,000 jump in November.
Also impressive, the unemployment rate in January stood at just 5.7%. For African-Americans, however, the report is yet another illustration of a tale of two economies. The unemployment rate for blacks was nearly double that of the overall population at 10.3%, down from 10.4% in December.
Valerie Rawlston Wilson, director of Economic Policy Institute’s program on Race, Ethinicity, and the Economy, says while things are improving we should beware of becoming complacent.
“My concern is that we begin to get too comfortable with what we’re seeing,” said Wilson. “If we don’t keep making a concerted effort, blacks miss out on getting a full recovery,” she added.
Wilson says initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper which President Obama launched late February 2014 are good, but the program – which has been met with a mixed response – was promise, not policy.
In addition, while some of the President’s ideas such as free community college for all would benefit blacks, they do not address the unique challenges African Americans face when it comes to the labor market.
“From that point of view, I would like to see more direct targeted efforts in expanding opportunities for people of color,” said Wilson. “We need investment in job training and education.
We also spoke with Congressman Jim Himes, a democrat from Connecticut soon after the jobs report was released. “As we watch a now strong economic recovery, we must not forget that the recovery is uneven,” the Congressman told us. “Certain communities including communities of color, have yet to feel real recovery. It is important that policy makers do all they can to address this problem,” Congressman Himes added.
President Obama will likely be speaking to many members of Congress about the employment situation for blacks. Next week, he will meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The CBC declined to comment on the agenda for the meeting. They did, however, tell BE that employment and jobs are part of their priorities.