At a time like this, even modest, and potentially temporary, declines in the unemployment rate deserve a round of applause. Well, unless the decline in the unemployment rate only brings it back to where it was for the first three months of the year. And unless the rate remains significantly higher for people who had been stranded furthest from opportunity even before the recession. So, maybe a golf clap?
In all seriousness, the release last week of May unemployment numbers was an important moment, and simultaneously almost entirely meaningless. The fact that the overall rate returned to 9.7% provides some sign that the slight uptick in overall unemployment in April may be an anomaly, and not in fact a signal that we are entering the second downturn of a dreaded "double-dip" recession. But, when coupled with continued evidence that communities of color continue to bear the worst of the downturn—15.5% unemployment for African Americans, 12.4% unemployment for Latinos—and, when we remember that even the overall 9.7% rate is still exceedingly high by historical standards, the good news becomes fairly thin gruel.
What is meaningful, however, is that Newsweek, a mainstream news source if ever there was one, chose to put a storyabout the dramatic differences in unemployment rates among different communities on the front page of its website, even if the story did portray the situation as a function of the downturn as opposed to a broader and longer-term trend. Perhaps it will inspire other news sources to cover this reality, or perhaps it will remind policymakers that one-size-fits-all economic recovery strategies are insufficient to address the unique challenges of communities that faced severely limited economic opportunity even before the financial crisis.
Read more at The Opportunity Agenda website.