While unemployment rose steadily for white New Yorkers from the first quarter of 2008 through the first three months of this year, the number of unemployed blacks in the city rose four times as fast, according to a report to be released on Monday by the city comptroller’s office. By the end of March, there were about 80,000 more unemployed blacks than whites, according to the report, even though there are roughly 1.5 million more whites than blacks here.
Across the nation, the surge in unemployment has cut across all demographic lines, and the gap between blacks and whites has risen, but at a much slower rate than in New York.
Economists said they were not certain why so many more blacks were losing their jobs in New York, especially when a large share of the layoffs in the city have been in fields where they are not well represented, like finance and professional services. But in those sectors, the economists suggested that blacks may have had less seniority when layoffs occurred. And black workers hold an outsize share of the jobs in retailing and other service industries that have been shrinking as consumers curtail their spending.“African-Americans have been hit disproportionately hard,” said Frank Braconi, the chief economist in the comptroller’s office. “The usual pattern is that the unemployment rate among African-Americans tends to be about twice as high as for non-Hispanic whites, but the gap has widened substantially in the city during the past year.”
Historically, the unemployment rate for blacks has always been higher than for whites. But since the start of the recession, in December 2007, the overall rate has risen by 4.6 percentage points — driving the black unemployment rate as high as 15 percent in April. The jobless figures among blacks became enough of a national issue that at a White House news conference last month, President Obama was asked what he could do to “stop the bloodletting in the black unemployment rate.”
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In some U.S. states, nearly half of the job seekers who have stopped looking for work have done so because they simply don't believe they'll find anything. Indeed, the number of discouraged workers nationwide has more than doubled in the past year. This trend won't be reflected in the widely publicized unemployment rate, as discouraged workers aren't included among the unemployed. Still, in states as diverse as Mississippi, South Dakota, and New York, the span of this often invisible slice of workers signals a population losing its hope.
Between the third quarter of last year and the second quarter of this year, Mississippi averaged the highest percentage of discouraged job seekers among its marginally attached--nearly 50 percent, compared with 32.6 percent nationwide. South Dakota ranked second after Mississippi, with 48.5 percent of marginally attached workers classified as discouraged. Florida, Michigan, Connecticut, West Virginia, and New York followed in ranking for the highest rates of discouragement.