I was asked by the Congressional Black Caucus for their “For the People” Jobs Commission to discuss the needs of and challenges confronting groups such as the chronically unemployed, the underemployed, new labor force entrants, and formerly-incarcerated individuals in the current labor market. One point I made was that a tight labor market—a labor market with strong job growth and low unemployment—benefits all groups.
I illustrated this point with the example of black youth—new labor force entrants—over the 1989-2000 and 2000-2007 business cycles. The business cycle from 1989 to 2000 had strong job growth; the business cycle from 2000 to 2007 had weak job growth.
For black 16-to-24 year olds who were not enrolled in school, the strong job growth over the 1989-2000 business cycle shaved 3.7 percentage points off their unemployment rate. This decline in the black youth unemployment rate was three times as large as the 1.2 percent decline in unemployment for white youth.
In contrast, the weak job growth of the 2000-2007 business cycle added 1.5 percentage points to the black youth unemployment rate. While the 1989-2000 business cycle put 72,000 black youth into jobs, the weak 2000-2007 business cycle reduced the number of black youth employed by 29,000. These comparisons provide an important reminder that macroeconomic policy strongly affects disadvantaged groups. Robust job creation not only benefits Americans generally, it also provides benefits specifically for black youth and other groups with challenges finding work.
While the country faces a jobs deficit of over 11 million jobs and a national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, it will be difficult to improve employment outcomes for the chronically unemployed, the underemployed, new labor force entrants, and formerly-incarcerated individuals. We need strong job creation to put us in the best position to help these groups.