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Working Harder, but Falling Further Behind

A dark cloud behind the economic recovery

9/9/2015, 3:55 p.m.
As we celebrate labor and America’s slow but steady climb to newfound economic prosperity during its most sustained period of ...
African-Americans and Latinos are seeing the brunt of the economic recession. Jason DeCrow/AP

“It is necessary to reaffirm that employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals. Its primary value is the good of the human person, as it allows the individual to be fully realized…Therefore, it follows that work has not only the economic objective of profit, but above all a purpose that regards man and his dignity. And if there is no work, this dignity is wounded. Indeed, the unemployed and underemployed risk being relegated to the margins of society, becoming victims of social exclusion.”Pope Francis, March 20, 2014

Despite the dizzying array of clearance sales and bargains to be found in our nation’s malls and department stores, Labor Day is no creation of our retail industry. It is our nation’s annual tribute to the working class, American worker, whose physical and largely manual labor built this country’s infrastructure and built a labor movement that spurred social and economic achievements for all American workers—regardless of job sector.

As we celebrate labor and America’s slow but steady climb to newfound economic prosperity during its most sustained period of job creation this century, we discover a dark cloud inside the silver lining of our recovery: The prosperity of the American economy is not being shared equally.

Too many people are working harder, but are falling further behind. Too many people remain at the distant margins of the job market—particularly in our communities of color, where unemployment remains at crisis level, even as our economy continues to rebound.

Marc H. Morial is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.

Marc H. Morial is president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League.

The unemployment rate in our country currently sits at 5.3 percent, its lowest rate since May 2008. But take a deeper dive into those numbers and the tale of two recoveries is clear and unmistakable.

While the unemployment rate for whites is at 4.6 percent, the Hispanic unemployment rate is at 6.8 percent and the black unemployment rate is 9.1 percent -- double that of white job seekers. The unemployment rates for African-Americans and Hispanics are nothing if not discouraging and telling. These communities, especially hard hit during the last recession, are not benefiting from our economy’s rebound.

The ability to secure work that provides a fair, living wage—regardless of gender—is an asset to the worker, the worker’s family, neighborhood, community, and ultimately, our nation. We are an immensely stronger America when access to work is not excluded to some, but rather, extended to all.