By Victor Ochieng
In January of this year, the White House reported 158,000 jobs added to the American economy. This marks the first time the U.S. employment rate has fallen to a low of 4.9% since February 2008.
While last month saw a slight fall in job creation compared to recent months, the figures remain above the required growth to sustain low unemployment rate. Over the past year, labor force participation rose to 62.7% while wages rose by 2.5%.
While the national unemployment rate still holds a record low, there are still long-standing disparities within the labor market. African Americans face higher unemployment rates, which hit a peak of 16.8% in March 2010. The numbers still remain double the average national rate of 8.8%.
Obama, in a recent press conference, issued remarks regarding the latest unemployment reports and praised the American business owners and workers for working to improve the economy. He noted that it was necessary that the efforts impacted positively across the entire income ladder.
Obama’s work to promote work and curb poverty has led him to expand the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). These provide a per-family average tax cut of $900 per year for about 16 million families. About two million African American families enjoy an average tax cut of roughly $1,000 dollars each.
Economist Margaret Simms sees nothing new in these disparities. Simms is the Urban Institute’s director of Low-Income Working Families. She reckons the two-to-one unemployment ratios between black and white American comes from diverse causes, mainly past and current discrimination. These include far from good job opportunities, access to skills training, employer discrimination, segregated neighborhoods, poor job networks, and lack of access to information among others. Simms noted that elimination of such differences would help clear the gaps.
Obama’s office seeks to address these issues and has unveiled a set of ‘best practices’ that over 20 members of Fortune 20 and over 80 members of Fortune 500 use to hire long-term unemployed citizens, a quarter of which are African Americans.
The office also turned the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law, which enhances transportation for the American workforce. With every $1 billion invested in transport creating over 10,000 jobs, the Obama plan has set up a novel one-year pilot program named Local Hire. This will give preference to local low-income workers, residents and veterans in the hiring process by the recipients of highway and transit grants.
Obama has also expanded the Pell Grant by 70% to make college education more affordable to the less fortunate. Working with the Vice President Biden, they have worked to enhance on-the job-training to ensure ready-to-work Americans occupy the available positions.