US Unemployment at Highest level in Nine Years

04 July 2003

An announcement Thursday by the US Labor Department that the latest unemployment data indicates the longest jobs famine since Word War 2 was received with surprising calm by the financial markets.

Instead they chose to focus on other, more optimistic, data that suggest a recovery in the national economy. These included a a surge in service sector optimism, deceleration in job losses and significant increases in the numbers of new jobseekers both permanent and temporary.

This more upbeat data was seen as an omen of an economic sunrise just below the horizon.

But at the sharp edge of the recession, first-time unemployment insurance claims leapt by 21,000 last week to a three-week high of 430,000 – the highest increase in a month. (Any reading above 400,000 suggests a shrinking job market.)

The Labor Department also reported that America’s unemployment rate had risen from 6.1 per cent to 6.4 per cent, its highest level since April 1994. Payrolls excluding the agricultural sector shrank by 30,000 in June after a drop in May of 70,000 – a figure that was worse than initially reported.

Unsettling racial implications were also present in the latest data. For every four white workers added to the workforce in June, the overall number of employed whites rose by three. But for every four black workers joining the labor force, the number with jobs slipped by three.

In aggregate, whites in the labor force rose by 461,000, and the number of employed whites rose by 321,000. Among blacks, however, 99,000 entered the work force while the overall number in employment fell by 73,000.

According to William E Spriggs, executive director at the National Urban League Institute for Opportunity and Equality, job opportunities for blacks are being created at a slower rate than for whites. But unlike previous recessions, blacks who lose their jobs seem less likely to drop out of the labor force and more likely to look for new ones. As a result, the unemployment rate - for black men in particular – is increasing.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff