According to the February report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers in February continued a year-long streak of adding more than 200,000 jobs per month, with 295,000 new jobs last month.
As part of that trend, the nation’s unemployment rate fell from 5.7% to 5.5%, though much of that drop was due to people dropping out of the work force.
However, the picture is not as rosy among minorities as it is for the population as a whole. For Latino workers, unemployment dropped slightly to 6.6%, still 20% higher than the overall rate for the country; for blacks, the official rate is 10.4%, almost twice the national rate.
Young people have it especially hard. The unemployment rate of teenagers 16-19 who are actively seeking work is 17.1%, more than three times the overall rate. That picture for teens is most egregious among African American teens (16-19), whose unemployment rate is 30% — five-and-a-half times the rate among Americans overall. Latino teens fare slightly better at 19.8% (3.5 times the overall rate), while only 15% of white teens actively seeking work are unemployed — half the rate of black youth.
What options exist to improve this bleak picture? Skilled labor in most fields requires training and/or apprenticeships, and while training programs exist, they cost money that unemployed youth can’t access. Jobs in “unskilled” fields are also available, but are often short-term day labor—and can be looked at as menial work. (For more on jobs, see “Pride, Poverty, and Prosperity” on page 10.) Also, many young people are eliminated from the labor market by virtue of minor infractions that have given them a police record; even those charged with a felony who plead down to a misdemeanor sometimes find that the dropped (or disproved) charges still affect their employability.
Businesses, churches, schools, and nonprofits like Green Opportunities are among the institutions that have resources to help, but clearly they’re not enough. Only government—local, state, and federal—has the power and resources to bring about change through a concerted effort of public investment. Just as the Great Depression motivated the nation to step up to the plate, and governments at all levels have invested in job programs for generations, the country needs action to fix our unemployment problem.
With so many young people seeking jobs and not getting them, they face constant pressure to find other, sometimes illegitimate means of earning money. And we all pay the price for that.