What is keeping black Americans out of work?

The August employment report was mixed.

Although the unemployment rate ticked down to 7.3 percent in July to its lowest level since December 2008, the labor market recovery remains fragile, especially for African-Americans.

Black unemployment rose to 13 percent in August from 12.6 percent in July. Unemployment among black teens declined to 38.2 percent, down from 41.6 percent.  This was the lowest level since March, however, black teen unemployment remains the highest of any group.

“We are seeing what is fundamentally a slow burning crisis for the American worker, whether it is the lack of jobs or quality of jobs,” said Heather McGhee, vice president for policy and outreach at Demos.

McGhee does not expect more encouraging jobs data until we have a commitment to create more public sector jobs, where blacks and Latinos are over represented.

“We’ve lost 700,000 public sector jobs since [President] Obama took office. This is a completely preventable and reversible catastrophe,” McGhee said. She attributed the steep cuts partly to the gridlock in Washington.

Of the 169,000 jobs created, the retail, health care and leisure and hospitality sectors saw the biggest gains. However, many retail jobs can be low wage. McGhee cited the recent Wal-Mart employee protests for higher wages as an example of low wage retail jobs.

Margaret Simms, institute fellow and director of the Low Income Working Families Project at the Urban Institute, said we must look at the changing nature of jobs.

“In many places the recession accelerated a trend already underway.” She said manufacturing jobs were  a good source of high-wage jobs for those without more than a high school education.  However, these jobs are not growing in many parts of the country.

Simms said the slow pace of job growth may require economic stimulus in the short-term.

She estimated at least 200,000 jobs must be created each month to get us back to the pre-recession level of unemployment.

Mobility plays a role in employment. African-Americans tend to live in more segregated communities and located further away from the areas experiencing the most jobs growth. Therefore, improving transportation and access to transportation is important, Simms explained.

Longer-term Simms emphasized the importance of education.

“We must ensure the next generation has the educational foundation to acquire job related skills, whether it is post-secondary or vocational training.”