Some groups hit harder than others in nation's protracted recession

Some groups hit harder than others in nation's protracted recession

Few Americans have been immune from the effects of the nation's protracted recession but some groups have been hit much harder than others during the past couple of years.

With more than 14 million Americans out of work, double-digit unemployment has plagued black men, construction workers, teenagers and those without high school diplomas more than other groups since the unemployment rate began its precipitous climb two years ago. 

Nearly every demographic group -- age, race, sex, education levels and industry -- across all 50 states has been hit by job losses since the nation's recession began in December 2007, according to Labor Department statistics.

Meanwhile, those with bachelor's degrees and higher and federal government workers have seen fewer job losses than other groups during the past couple of years. Government wage and salary workers rates have remained well below the national average, and ticked up only slightly to 3.6 percent.

The June jobs report showed a slight dip in the jobless rate to 9.5 percent with 14.6 million workers out of work. More than 9.2 million are collecting some form of unemployment insurance, including 4.9 million receiving federal extensions of aid.

Two years ago, the nation's unemployment rate was 5.5 percent. From there the rate gradually ticked up, hitting a high of 10.1 percent in October and remaining at 10 percent through the end of last year.

The average duration of unemployment is a record 35.2 weeks, more than eight months. Although the jobless rate improved last month, the dip is attributed to 650,000 adult Americans dropping out of the labor force, the second highest monthly increase in the past decade.

As Americans struggle to find jobs, Congress opted last week to leave town for a weeklong July 4 recess without extending benefits for those out of work more than six months. That is expected to lead to 3.23 million losing their benefits before the end of the month -- about 375,000 a week -- if Congress fails to act by August. More than 2 million will have lost their benefits before lawmakers return July 12.

Although a broad spectrum of the economy has been hit hard, black men have lost jobs at a much faster rate than many groups, seeing their rates hit double digits in July 2008 after two years of relatively stable numbers in the 7 and 8 percent range.

In less than two years, those figures have nearly doubled, soaring to 19 percent in March, dropping back slightly to 17.4 percent in June, but still much higher than the national average of 9.5 percent.

Overall, the nation's black population has experienced unemployment above 10 percent since August 2008, hitting 16.5 percent in January, March and April of this year before falling to 15.4 percent in June.

Black women have fared slightly better than their male counterparts, despite 17 consecutive months of unemployment higher than the national average. Rates hit a high of 13.7 in April but retreated in the past two months, dropping to 11.8 percent in June.

One of the hardest hit groups are young people who, while already experiencing unemployment in the double digits for the past 10 years, have seen even those high numbers climb to record levels during the downturn.

Young people

Young people between the ages of 16-19 had an unemployment rate of 25.7 percent in June, while the rate for those age 16-17 was 29.2 percent.

Young blacks have experienced dizzying levels of unemployment, above 20 percent for the past 10 years, eclipsing 41.2 percent in September and reaching almost 50 percent -- 49.8 percent -- in November. The rate has dropped back into the 30s but hovered near 40 percent in June -- 39.9 percent.

Hispanics in the same age group have seen average yearly unemployment rates range from 15.9 percent in 2006  to nearly 30.2 percent in 2009. For nine of the past 14 months the rate has exceeded 30 percent with a high of 37.2 percent in January. The rate had dropped to 28.2 percent in May but went back up to 35.7 percent in June, according to Labor statistics.

Whites in the same age group have seen their unemployment rates nearly double in the past couple of years. While jobless rates had ranged between 11 percent and 19 percent during the past decade, those unable to find work rose above 20 percent and have rooted there for 16 straight months, with a high of 24.4 in May.

By industry

Several industries have recorded higher than average unemployment rates during the recession. The construction sector, which has been susceptible to wide fluctuations, has been one of the hardest hit, reaching a 10-year high of 27.1 percent in February, then dropping down to 20.1 percent in June, no change from May.

The manufacturing sector, which has bolstered the economic recovery, has seen steady improvement. In January, the sector experienced a 13 percent unemployment rate, the highest in a decade. Manufacturing unemployment levels have typically been low since 2000, increasing sharply from 4.3 percent in 2007, to 5.8 percent in 2008 and more than doubling in 2009 to 12.1 percent in 2009.

After hitting 12.6 percent in March, the rate has dropped to 11.1 percent, 10.3 percent in May and 9.9 percent in June.

The leisure and hospitality industry, used to rates between 7 and 8 percent, saw an increase from 8.6 percent in 2009 up to average of 11.7 percent in 2009, the highest level in 10 years. After a 10-year high of 14.2 percent in January, the rate has remained in 12 percent range for most of this year, down to 12.3 percent in June.


Americans without a high school diploma have experienced 21 straight months of unemployment above 10 percent with a high of 15.6 percent in February. The rate was above 14.9 percent for nine straight months -- through February of this year -- going down to 14.1 percent in June, the lowest level since March 2009.

High school graduates fared slightly better, generally enjoying unemployment in the 4 percent range during the past decade. In September 2008, the jobless rate reached 6.2 percent, the highest level since 2000. That number crossed the 10 percent line in May 2009, hitting a high of 11.2 percent in October 2009, down to a 10.8 percent level in June.

Those with bachelor's degrees have not seen unemployment rates higher than 5 percent since the recession began, reaching that figure in December and February after years in the 1 and 2 percent range. Between May and June the rate dropped from 4.7 to 4.4 percent.

White Americans

White Americans have experienced a rate that has nearly doubled and has risen in line with the national rate. Throughout the past decade the rates have remained in the 4 to 5 percent range, hitting 6 percent in October 2008. A high of 9.4 percent in October, easing downward to 8.6 percent in June.

White men have seen similar trends, hitting a high of 9.9 percent in October, hovering around 9 percent since then, recording 8.9 percent in June.

White women age 20 and older have experienced better rates, reaching a high of 7.4 percent in October and dropping to 7.1 percent in June.

Age groups

Although the unemployment rate for those 25 years and older has typically ranged between 6 and 9 percent since 2000, it soared into double digits in October 2008 -- hitting 10.4 percent. Those figures quickly jumped to 15 percent by May 2009 -- staying at that level for 10 consecutive months -- before finally dropping to 14.5 percent in March. The latest June figures show a drop from 15 percent in May to 14.1 percent last month, according to Labor Department statistics.

In June, those aged 20-24 had the highest unemployment rate for those over 20 years ago, at 15.3 percent. The rate has been in double digits since May 2008 and has fluctuated this year but hasn't really seen much improvement.

Otherwise, 8.2 percent of those 25 and older were unemployed in June, 10.3 percent of those 25 to 34 were unemployed last month. The number dropped to 7.8 percent for those 35-44 and 7.5 percent for those 45 to 54.

Americans 55 and older had an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent in June, more than double the rate of two years ago but lower than a 10-year high of 7.2 percent in December.

Unemployment benefits

Americans in some states can receive up to 99 weeks of extended unemployment benefits.

On average, Americans receive $304 a week, providing about $6.7 billion a month in economic stimulus, according to the National Employment Law Project, a group studying the issue.

The Congressional Budget Office has said every dollar in unemployment benefits is worth $1.90 to the economy.

Historically, unemployment benefits have not only been routinely extended without being offset but have remained in place until the unemployment rate reaches lower levels, somewhere between 5 and 7 percent. Economists have said the U.S. rate could hover around 8 percent for at least the next year if not longer.

Only 11 states could continue with the 13-20 week extended benefits program because triggers based on states' unemployment rates have been worked out separately of the federal program. But at least 20 other states would lose those extra benefits that would provide up to 20 weeks, according to NELP.

A total of 54 percent of everyone who uses unemployment insurance exhaust all of their benefits.