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Unemployment rate stays below 4%

If you follow the numbers on unemployment, you know that the March jobs report showed unexpectedly large growth. Prior to the release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economists had expected to see slowdowns in both job and wage growth.

Forecasters predicted the economy would add 200,000 jobs in March. That’s a respectable number but it would have been a 27% decline from the 275,000 jobs employers added in February. Instead, the economy added 303,000 jobs – a 10% increase over the previous month. Predictions about wage growth were accurate at 0.3%. Wages have grown by 4.1% year-over-year. Overall, the unemployment rate is 3.8%.

March was the 26th consecutive month that unemployment remained below 4%. By all accounts, the economy is booming. When you look more closely at the data, you see some significant factors that the overall jobless number disguises.

First and foremost, unemployment among black workers jumped to 6.5%. That’s a 0.7% increase from February, when the jobless rate among black workers was 5.8%. Among black women, the unemployment rate rose from 4.4% in February to 5.4% in March.

Joblessness among black men remained constant at 6.6%. Year over year, unemployment among black men rose by 1%, from 5.6% in March 2023.

This is a massive shift in employment status over a single month for women. In comparison, joblessness among white women dropped slightly, from 3.2% to 3.1% between February and March.

Unemployment among all teenage workers was 12 %. Among white teens, the BLS recorded that 10.6% of teens were seeking – but not finding – employment. Among black teens, joblessness rose by 38% from 14.2% to 19.6% between February and March.

Community colleges should work to reverse race-based unemployment gaps

These numbers reflect the status of people who want to work and have not found employment. It is also important to note that a large number of workers who were classified in the March jobs report as unemployed may be among the 2.5M people who entered or re-entered the workforce.

The persistent unemployment gap between black workers and workers of other races is a call to action for community colleges. Community colleges currently offer a significant number of credit and non-credit programs that do not lead to gainful employment. High quality education and training for high-wage, high-demand jobs is one strategy to reverse the growing employment gaps between jobseekers of different races. Equally important is to avoid directing already-marginalized jobseekers into low-wage and/or low-demand jobs.

As labor force participation increases – driven by rising wages and job growth – it is important to prepare all prospective workers to meet the changing needs of the economy. Community colleges should focus their resources on ensuring that no prospective workers are left behind.

Photo Credit: BBC World Service , via Flickr