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EconomicPolicyInstitute November 14, 2008

This October saw the loss of 240,000 jobs, which brings the total number of jobs lost since December 2007 to a startling 1.2 million. Most of the jobs lost were in the private sector, which is often more indicative of the labor market’s weakness (government jobs are less sensitive to business cycles). In EPI’s latest Jobs Picture, economist Heidi Shierholz stressed that digging beneath the surface-level statistics shows that the trends among certain groups are even worse. The unemployment rate for blacks is alarmingly high at 11.1%, and the rate for Hispanics continues to grow. Additionally, 1.4 million college-educated Americans are now unemployed, accounting for over 58% of the total rise in unemployment among people over 25. Writes Shierholz, “This is a clear signal that distress in the financial sector is generating unemployment at the top of the education ladder.”

Declining hours
Since World War II, Americans have been steadily working more hours. These increasing hours have been especially important since the 1970s, when wages began to decrease. But as EPI economist Monique Morrissey shows in this week’s Snapshot, the current recession has interrupted this slow and steady rise, leaving many without the work hours they once had. While some of this decline can be attributed to an aging population, Morrissey argues that “the main reason is weak labor demand.”

(panelists)Déjà vu all over again
Forty years after the Kerner Commission shed light on growing inequality, economic opportunity has improved little for African Americans. “The Work That Remains: A Forty-year Update of the Kerner Commission Report,” an event co-sponsored by the Eisenhower Foundation and EPI, featured several speakers who detailed the current economic state of African Americans and offered policy solutions. Valerie Wilson, senior resident scholar at the National Urban League Policy Institute, presented compelling research on the state of African American opportunity. Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Program, explained some of the specific problems with employment discrimination: while racial discrimination affects everyone to some extent, it particularly hurts less-educated black men, blacks in cities, and black youth. But the speakers also offered hope for the future. Wilson, along with her research, gave 10 policy proposals that could directly improve the situation. And nothing should hold lawmakers back–EPI’s director of research, John Irons, found that the deficit as a percent of gross domestic product is not only within historic norms, but smaller than it was when Clinton entered office. Alan Curtis, the president of the Eisenhower Foundation, summarized the lack of progress and the policy options before remarking, “None of these policies could be implemented without a new political will.”

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