THE BLOG
10/07/2014 10:25 am ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

The New Normal Continues: Low Labor Force, High Poverty, and High Inequality

Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the monthly report on the overall employment situation for September. The national unemployment rate was 5.9 percent. The unemployment rate for Asians was 4.3 percent, for whites 5.1 percent, Latinos 6.9 percent and African Americans 11 percent. The report does not include data for Native Americans.

This brings us the closest we have come to the average pre-recession unemployment rate of 5 percent (January 2000-December 2007). While we hope that the unemployment rate will continue to fall, recent research from the Brookings Institute highlights several reasons why they feel it will plateau at this point for some time.

Last month, the Census Bureau also released its yearly report on income and poverty. Child poverty rates decreased for the first time since 2000, falling slightly from 21.8 percent to 19.9 percent. However, poverty rates for Latino and African American children were significantly higher at 30.4 percent and 38.3 percent, respectively.

Wages continue to stagnate according to this jobs report as well, with average hourly earnings at $24.53, a penny less than last month. With minimal improvement in employment levels, American families are counting on wages and hiring to increase at the middle and lower ends of the job market, where African American workers are concentrated. This report includes a 288,000 increase in the number of African Americans employed compared with last month.

The unemployment figure of 5.9 percent does not reflect the realities of many African Americans, as African American workers continue to be unemployed at over twice the rate of whites. And if we count the workers who are marginally attached to the job market or working part-time for economic reasons, as many as 25 percent of all African Americans are under-employed. What's worse: wages in the job sectors where African American workers are concentrated remain far below what anyone would consider a "living wage."

As the NAACP embarks on our Justice Tour over the next month across the country and hears the economic challenges facing our communities, one demand we must rally for are programs that put all Americans back to work, and instituting a wage that lets them live above the poverty line.

This month the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve will use this jobs report, and the report on poverty from the Census along with other economic indicators to decide if it is time to raise a key interest rate. This rate has been kept low to encourage businesses to expand their workforces and while the improvement in the unemployment rate is a positive indicator, we know that outside of the upper income families, most Americans are still mired in economic instability and uncertainty.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the Sr. Director of the NAACP Economic Department and Executive Director of the Financial Freedom Center.