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Report: Black Unemployment More Widespread Than Previously Thought

High rates of Black unemployment have spread beyond the Midwestern rustbelt states that were home to dismal rates of employment before the recession, says a new report from the Economic Policy Institute.

According to the report, southern sunbelt states where African-Americans sought economic refuge in the past are no longer beacons of opportunity. By 2010, southern bastions such as Charlotte, Miami, Tampa and Las Vegas all posted unemployment rates not only above the national Black jobless rate, but also some of the highest rates overall.

“Without a strong federal jobs program, the pain of very high unemployment is likely to be long-lasting for most of America’s metropolitan Blacks,” warned Algernon Austin, director of EPI’s program in race and ethnicity and author of the report.

The latest unemployment rate for African-Americans was a staggering 16.7 percent according to Labor Department statistics released last month. The jobless rate for September will be released this Friday morning.

Overall, the EPI study shows that in the current economic climate, it is difficult for African-Americans to outrun high Black unemployment rates anywhere in the country. Additionally, the study ranks 31 metro areas by unemployment rate (Detroit is highest at 24.7%) and by the ratio of Black-to-white unemployment (Milwaukee is highest, where Blacks were 3.8 times as likely to be unemployed as whites).

The news comes just as eight states announced that they will raise their rates of minimum wage next year. Colorado, Montana, Ohio, Washington and Oregon said their increases in 2012 minimum wages, which could mean annual raises of between $582 and $770 for full-time workers in those states.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show more than 600,000 African-Americans are working for wages that are at or below the federal minimum wage. Recently released 2010 Census data shows that fewer than 10 percent of African-Americans inhabit the western states that plan to boost their minimum wage. The bulk of the Black population (over 50 percent) is located in the South, with the remainder split between the Northeast and the Midwest. Given that 76% of jobs created in the first seven months of 2010 were in low and mid-wage industries, a move west may give some African-Americans the added boost in income needed to ride out the recession.

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