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With 1 in 10 Americans out of work, what are the demographics of the unemployment line?

With 1 in 10 Americans out of work, what are the demographics of the unemployment line?

Last week, we saw the Department of Labor reveal the worst unemployment statistics the U.S. has faced since 1983, with a total of 15.7 million Americans officially out of work and looking. The new national average of 10.2% is an important psychological threshold — but what’s even more shocking to think about is that it is an average. Many locations and demographics are experiencing much scarier numbers. Who is most and least affected by this plague of joblessness? What is the demographic makeup of the unemployment line?

The numbers vary from state to state, of course. For instance, RiseSmart’s home state of California has experienced 12.2% unemployment recently. Michigan, Nevada, and Rhode Island are also suffering. However, states such as the Dakotas, Utah, Iowa, and Nebraska are all doing comparatively well.

But regional differences are to be expected as local economies go through boom and bust times. It’s the demographic numbers that will really make you look twice. The New York Times has published a thought-provoking interactive chart that graphs out unemployment rates for different groups of Americans, called ‘The Jobless Rate for People Like You.’ You can adjust the chart for race, gender, age, and education levels and get 12-month averages for that demographic, current as of September 2009 (they don’t reflect our latest awful reality of 10+%, but still show a sobering truth).

The variations are shocking. Truly, not all groups have felt the recession equally. Make up an imaginary unemployed person; give them an age, a gender, a race, and an education. See what their chances are; then change an element or two.

Take away that college degree, or change the race, and you’ll quickly find that some groups have unemployment rates much higher than the 10% we’re all worrying over. The highest unemployment rate –- a staggering 48.5% –- is suffered by black males under age 24 without a high school diploma. Their female counterparts (same race, age, and education) also faced discouraging odds at 36.8%, but the change of gender alone makes a difference of 11.7%.

Education helps, because these same groups, had they finished high school, would be facing just 25.8% unemployment. Before you pin it all on dropping out of school, though, consider a schoolmate of theirs: a white male of the same age who didn’t complete high school. The white dropout, statistically, faces just 25.6% unemployment (virtually the same as the black male who completes his diploma). If the white student finishes high school, it drops to 15.5%.

There are many more dismaying inequities to be found by experimenting with the chart. The unemployment line of America, according to these numbers, contains more men than women; more youth than elders; a vastly unequal representation of races; and an inordinate amount of the less-educated. In fact, education is the factor that affects these rates the most. There are definitely trends based on age, race, and gender, but possession of a high school or college degree seems to do the most, across the board, to increase one’s chances of getting and keeping a job.

For more unemployment statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Unemployment Statistics is an excellent place to start. You can examine national, state, and local statistics through the lens of various demographics, and research mass layoffs, too. If you are interested in how the unemployment crisis is affecting older workers, the Urban Institute has produced comprehensive ‘Unemployment Statistics on Older Americans.’

Whether you are a job-seeker or a Human Resource professional (or both –- it’s known to happen from time to time), it is important to know the real face of joblessness. Our country is facing the worst unemployment crisis in decades: probably the worst any of us will see in our careers. We owe it to ourselves and to the people we meet and consider working with to understand what is really going on in our offices, our unemployment system, and our society.


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Filed under:Economy, Jobs, Recruiting

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