Today’s job report was rather disappointing overall, as job growth slowed considerably. While the unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent, the number of jobs that were created in March was far below expectations, coming in at 120,000 (the consensus projection was approximately 205,000).
Labor participation rates, which measures the percentage of working-age individuals who are employed or are unemployed and looking for a job, fell slightly, indicating that more people dropped out of the labor force altogether this month. Similarly, the employment-population ratio, which measures the percentage of working-age people who are working, also fell slightly.
Adding to the troubling news, average weekly earnings for those that were employed also dropped in March, which is not good for families that are dealing with increasing costs, such as gas, or for the economy overall, which is dependent on consumer spending.
The best news? The U6 unemployment rate, which measures unemployed workers, discouraged workers and those who are forced to work part-time for economic reasons, fell from 14.9 percent to 14.5 percent, largely due to a decrease in the number of people working part-time.
While the situation overall was disappointing, surprisingly, the employment situation for the black community was slightly more positive, though still underwhelming. Unemployment also fell from 14.1 percent to 14.0 percent, which is clearly not enough.
However, unlike the broader economy, black participation rates and employment-population rates increased from 61.7 percent to 61.9 percent, and from 53.0 percent to 53.2 percent respectively. And unlike past months, these gains were spread between the genders as employment figures for both men and women improved. The segment of black workers that took a step backwards was teenagers between the ages of 16-19.
That being said, the most recent employment figures should indicate that the level of urgency to address the unemployment crisis should continue to increase, not decrease, and that everyone, including the black community, needs to make sure that it does.
While the economy and job prospects are seemingly better than they were just months ago, what can’t be done is for Washington to declare another “Recovery Summer,” as was done in 2010, or to pivot away from jobs and to deficit reduction again, as was done in the summer of 2011. Because, while a declining official unemployment number will undoubtedly have a positive political effect on the re-election prospects for President Obama and Democrats in general, the recovery is still fragile at best.
After making the mistake of overestimating the future strength of the economy twice in the past two years based on a few months of improving performance, it is a lesson that, hopefully, all of us have learned by now and will repeat. We can ill afford to.
Gerald Mitchell is the creator of Power Collective, where he works to support and promote small and socially-responsible businesses. Previously, he worked in community and economic development as an adviser to, and investor in, inner-city small businesses.