In a sign that the economy is still in the early stages of recovery, the African-American unemployment rate in July dipped slightly to 14.1 percent, from 14.4 percent in June. The national rate rose to 8.3 percent, compared to 8.2 percent the previous month, and 163,000 new jobs were added to the economy, the most in the last five months.
Initial unemployment claims rose by 8,000 to 365,000 in the week ending July 28, the Labor Department reported on Thursday. And according to a Bloomberg News report, it is the last week in which annual auto plant retooling closures will affect the numbers. The four-week moving average was 365,500, down 2,750 from the previous week's revised average of 368,250.
The monthly jobs report is not only a measure of how the economy is faring but also a key issue in the 2012 campaign that could help determine whether President Obama returns to the White House in January 2013 and which party controls the House and the Senate.
Few expected to see a significant drop in the Black unemployment rate, but some analysts and lawmakers consistently point to the high number to underscore how critical it is that African-Americans develop new and marketable skills. They have a far greater chance of doing so, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver told BET.com. And while they won't likely change their allegiance from Obama even if their unemployment numbers soar, those key independent voters whom the president and Republican Mitt Romney are so ardently courting can go either way.
In response to the jobs report, Romney expressed confidence that if elected in November, he can turn around the economy in his first term much faster than the president has.
"Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families. Yesterday I launched my Plan for a Stronger Middle Class that will bring more jobs and more take home pay. My plan will turn things around and bring the economy roaring back, with 12 million new jobs created by the end of my first term," he said. "President Obama doesn’t have a plan and believes that the private sector is ‘doing fine.’"
Obama's re-election campaign shot back that Romney's plan will harm, not help, the middle class.
"Gov. Romney’s plan for the middle class is nothing but a tax hike he would use to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires like himself — costing the average middle class family with children $2,000 a year," sad Ben LaBolt, the campaign's national spokesman. "Rather than creating any jobs, the severe cuts in Romney’s budget — which would impact things like education, research and development and infrastructure — would slow economic growth and could lead to another recession, according to independent economists."
But no matter the election's outcome, Cleaver warned, African-Americans must commit to learning the skills required for 21st century jobs.
"African-Americans more than any other group must understand that with the downturn the economy has changed and many of the jobs in the industrialized Midwest, for example, are no longer there, not because people aren't rehiring but because those jobs have been replaced by technological advancements. We've got to learn new skills in order to get the jobs of the 21st century," Cleaver said. "African-Americans can't afford to be dispassionate about something so important. They may not all understand the monthly jobs report, but it's critically important to their future."
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(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)