The Economy Today: Unemployment Inequality

A roundup of national and regional economic headlines

The recession’s pain hasn’t fallen equally on all sectors of the population, The New York Times reports in its lead story today. In both the Big Apple and across the country, African-American unemployment tends to run about twice as high as the jobless rate among non-Hispanic whites. But in the past year, that relationship has become uncoupled in New York City; in the first quarter of 2009, unemployment rose four times faster among blacks than among whites. The story suggests that for all the attention paid to layoffs in the city’s high-flying legal and financial sectors, job losses in the civil service, retail, and manufacturing sectors have actually been greater.

The Washington Post flags one of the second-order consequences of the recession: a new openness in many states to alternatives to incarceration. Prisons have attracted a lot of attention as rural job-creation centers over the last decade or so, but as states look to balance budgets in a down economy, keeping people out of jail is becoming a higher priority. The key data point, lifted from a Pew study, is that it costs $79 a day to keep an inmate in prison, but $3.50 to monitor the same person on probation or parole.

The politics of stimulus is taken up by The Columbus Dispatch. Ohio voters gave President Obama low marks on the economy in a recent poll, and lawmakers from the Buckeye State “have emerged as central players” in the debate over how well the first stimulus package is working and whether a second is needed, the paper claims.

While the job market is stratifying in New York, it’s just outright bad in Michigan. The Detroit news reports today that the state has lost more than 750,000 of its jobs since mid-2000; by the end of next year, that number will jump to 950,000. Auto manufacturing now accounts for less than 1 percent of the state’s non-farm jobs. On the bright side, the health and education sectors are actually growing. Add it all up, and it sounds like the state’s economy is becoming less distinctive and more like the rest of the country.

A squib in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, meanwhile, notes that even people who have jobs are taking home less money. The average annual paycheck for small business employees has shrunk by more than $3,400 since June 2008; at the same time, an increasing number of those employees were contractors, as more businesses turned to freelance help. What you have is a picture of an economy that’s struggling to survive,” said the president of the private payroll firm that compiled the data.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.