by Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The economy beat expectations in February by adding 236,000 jobs nearly, doubling 119,000 jobs created in January, according to the Labor Department. Overall, the unemployment rate dipped to 7.7 percent, but the Black jobless rate stalled at 13.8 percent, unchanged since January.
According to some labor experts, the numbers could signal a tough year ahead, especially if Washington lawmakers continue down the sequester path of cut-first and ask questions later.
Including February’s report, the three-month average Black unemployment rate was 13.9 percent, more than twice the rate of White workers who posted a 6.9 percent three-month average jobless rate.
The unemployment rate for Black men at least 20 years old dropped from 13.4 percent to 12.9 percent in February and for White men looking for work, the number decreased from 6.6 percent to 6.3 percent.
For White women, the jobless rate also decreased from 6.4 percent to 6.0 percent. But Black women continued to lose ground posting 12.5 percent unemployment rate, an increase from the 12.3 percent the previous month. That represents the highest unemployment rate for Black women since October 2012.
“We’re having a very weak recovery. We are creating jobs, but we’re not creating jobs at a strong enough pace to dramatically decrease the unemployment rate,” said Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute. “That’s why we need more stimulus activity not budget cutting at this time,
Even though the increase in the number of jobs added was a welcomed surprise, economists remained cautiously optimistic about the latest jobs report as the effects of the “never-gonna-happen” deep and punishing budget cuts, known as sequestration, threaten job growth.
“The only concern would be what happens over the next few months, because of the sequester,” said Steven Pitts, an economist at the Labor Center at University of California at Berkeley, Calif.
The sequester and a number of measures planned by Congress and the president, could erase more than 700,000 jobs from the books, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Pitts said that sequestration and other policies designed to reduce the deficit will cause contraction in the economy and slow down any type of improvement.
Instead, Pitts said that, lawmakers should focus on targeted job programs for Blacks and addressing discrimination in hiring practices that often contribute to the 2 to 1 unemployment gap between Black workers and White workers.
In a recent brief for the Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank focused on fiscal issues affecting low- and middle-income earners, Austin wrote: “Unemployment projections show essentially no improvement from the high levels that prevailed at the end of 2012. However, this prognosis may prove overly optimistic, as poor policy choices by Congress could easily worsen the economic outlook.”
Rep. Marcia Fudge [D-Ohio], chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, echoed those concerns.
“With sequestration expected to further reduce public sector jobs where African Americans are heavily concentrated, and with significant cuts to unemployment benefits, workforce development, housing and health and human services programs, minorities and struggling communities will bear the burden of reversal to any progress in the making.”
The public sector shed 10,000 jobs in February and 21,000 jobs in January averaging a loss of 12,000 every month over the past three months.
Sequestration is just going to make that worst, said Austin.
Most of the losses in the public sector happened at the state and local level and Austin said that the conversation around sequestration has shown people how much we need food inspectors, air traffic controllers, and teachers.
In 2011, Black workers accounted for 20 percent of the public sector workforce.
“An important part of having a healthy economy is having a public sector,” said Austin. “We should be worried for Black workers, because of the hit to the public sector and because of the weak job growth overall.”