Unemployment for Hispanics, African Americans remains high

According to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), African Americans and Hispanics are still at a disadvantage when it comes to employment in some metro areas.

The EPI scanned 19 metro areas with large African American populations and 25 metros with large Hispanic populations.  Both studies found that unemployment in 2011 was higher than the national rate for African Americans and Hispanics in certain metros. 

African American unemployment increases in Las Vegas, decreases sharply in Detroit

Of the 19 areas studied, Las Vegas and Los Angeles had the highest rates of black unemployment in 2011.  Las Vegas also saw the largest increase in a one-year span, from 19.8 percent in 2010 to 22.6 percent in 2011.  Los Angeles saw a 1.8 percent increase over the same period.  Overall black unemployment rates for both areas were over 20 percent.

Algernon Austin, director of Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at EPI, said the high rate of black unemployment in Las Vegas - at 22.6 percent - looks familiar, and at "a level comparable to the highest overall national rates during the Great Depression," Austin said. "The peak unemployment rate for the entire United States was at around 20 percent during the great depression."

The EPI found that the lowest black unemployment rates were in Richmond, Va. and Washington, D.C.  But the rate for the two metro areas was still high at around 10 percent.  Austin said the lower rates in these areas could be attributed to more secure federal government jobs, as well as a more educated workforce.

However, the state and local governments are still in trouble, he added: "This is particularly important to black workers, who have been losing jobs in these sectors where they are overrepresented."

Of the metro areas scanned, Detroit had the largest decrease in black unemployment with a drop of 7.3 percent to 18.1 percent.  In 2010, the black unemployment rate for Detroit was a little over 25 percent.  Austin says the drop may be proof that the recovery of the auto industry in Michigan is having a positive impact on minorities.

Steven Pitts,  Labor Policy Specialist at UC Berkeley, said to use caution when interpreting the drop in African American and Hispanic unemployment.

"Reduction in unemployment could reflect better job prospects," he said. "It could also reflect people who are unemployed and no longer actively searching for a job."

The national African American unemployment rate remained the same at 15.9 percent.

Click here for the full study.

Hispanic unemployment declining in some metro areas, but still high

Nationwide, the unemployment rate for Hispanics was 11.5 percent in 2011.  Of the 25 large metro areas examined by the EPI, the Providence, R.I. metropolitan area had the highest rate at 23.3 percent.

Among the 25 areas, the biggest dip in Hispanic unemployment occurred in Las Vegas and Phoenix.  Both metros saw a decrease of more than 2 percent.  Philadelphia and Albuquerque, N.M. also reported large drop offs.  However, Albuquerque tied with Providence for the largest disparity between white and Hispanic unemployment.

Although most of the areas examined are showing decreases in Hispanic unemployment, 17 still have unemployment rates above 10 percent.  Much like the black unemployment situation in Las Vegas, Providence has a Hispanic unemployment rate close to the highest national rate during the Great Depression.

Austin said that aside from the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, more money should be put into infrastructure to boost construction jobs, an occupation that employs a high volume of Hispanics.

The national unemployment rate for Hispanics dropped from 12.5 to 11.5 percent in 2011.

Click here for the full study.

About the author

John Ketchum is an assistant producer for Marketplace’s wealth & poverty desk.

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