by Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – After falling into the single digits in April, the Black unemployment rate increased to 10.2 percent in May, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department.

The national unemployment rate also increased from 5.4 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May. Most economists attribute the slight uptick in the jobless rate to the fact that more workers, nearly 400,000 by Labor Department estimates, entered the labor market last month. The national labor force participation rate, the share of the population that either has a job or is currently looking for one, crept up to 62.9 percent from 62.8 percent the previous month. The number of Blacks in the labor force also increased, but the participation rate was steady at 62 percent, compared to the White labor force participation rate, which rose from 62.8 percent in April to 63 percent in May.

The White unemployment rate hasn’t budged since February 2015 and in May it was still 4.7 percent. And while the share of the Black population that held a job, also known as the E-POP ratio, fell from 56 percent to 55.7 percent, the E-POP ratio showed a thin increase among Whites (59.9 percent in April vs. 60 percent in May).

The jobless rate for Black men over 20 years-old leaped a full percentage point from 9.2 percent in April to 10.2 percent in May and the participation rate for Black men decreased from 68.7 percent in April to 68.5 percent in May During the same period, the unemployment rate for White men fell from 4.4 percent to 4.2 percent in May. The labor force rate for White men was steady month over month at 72.2 percent.

The jobless rate and the labor force participation rate for Black women over 20 years-old didn’t budge in May and were 8.8 percent 61.9 percent, respectively. Meanwhile the unemployment rate for White women ticked up to 4.3 percent in May from 4.2 percent in April and the participation rate dipped to 57.3 percent from 57.6 percent in April.

Although economists often caution against drawing long-term conclusions based on one months jobs report, the Black jobless rate is still nearly double the national rate a trend that has continued for decades.

As the recovery continues, economists also continue to search for reasons why hourly wages haven’t improved more as the labor market tightens and the national unemployment rate falls toward pre-recession levels.

A recent report by the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a national group that advocates for social, racial and economic justice, pointed to Federal Reserve policies that seem to favor Wall Street over Main Street.

“The Federal Reserve’s focus over the past 35 years has been on price stability, or tamping down inflation,” said the CPD report. “While this focus is good for Wall Street, it has resulted in wage stagnation for most workers on Main Street.”

The report also said that wages have been stagnant or falling for the vast majority of workers since 2000.

The report continued: “While at the median, wages for white workers have risen only 2.5 percent in 14 years, African-American workers have seen a wage cut of 3.1 percent over the same period.”

The CPD report recommended that the Federal Reserve support policies that build a “full employment economy,” keep interest rates low for cities and states to encourage investments in infrastructure, and focus on policies that can help to grow a stronger middle class.

In a recent blog post on job growth and wages, Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said that if the economy added 280,000 jobs a month, the jobs gap would be closed by August 2016, but if the economy only added 207,000 jobs per month, the most recent three month average, “at that pace, we wouldn’t return to pre-recession labor market health until April 2017.”

In a statement about the Labor Department’s jobs report, Chad Stone, the chief economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan think tank that studies how budget decisions affect low-income families, that even though many of the labor market indicators have recovered since the Great Recession, it’s still too early for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

“By testing whether it can push unemployment lower — rather than play it safe to avoid any risk of inflation — the Fed could bring more workers back into the labor force, help more long-term unemployed find work, and begin to generate solid wage gains for most workers,” Stone said in the statement.

The Federal Reserve shouldn’t even think about raising interest rates until 2016, Gould said because the recovery is still lukewarm and wages are mostly flat.

Connie Razza, the director of strategic research for the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a national group that advocates for social, racial and economic justice, echoed those concerns.

In a press release about the jobs report, Razza said that unemployment among women and people of color is disproportionately high and that “many of those who have found work remain underemployed, underpaid, and unfairly scheduled.”

Razza continued: “Against this backdrop, the next steps for the Federal Reserve are clear. The Fed should keep interest rates low to let the economy continue its recovery, which will lead to more jobs and higher wages. This is the only monetary policy option that supports an inclusive recovery.”

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