Since the start of the Great Recession, poverty and unemployment rates have soared while earnings and budgets have dropped. Although the recession is officially over, recovery is painstakingly slow. Amidst debates on closing budget deficits and reigning in spending, one issue remains elusive: where can we get more jobs?
Employment fell more rapidly in this recession than in any of the other recessions in recent decades. With a national unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, and unemployment in New York City at 9.7 percent, more and more people who want to work are unable to do so. High unemployment also provides added burdens to already vulnerable populations – while the white unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in April of 2012, it was 13 percent for African-Americans and 10.3 percent for Hispanic/Latinos. Workers under 25 had an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent, and 12.5 percent for those over 25 with less than a high school diploma.
In fact, unemployment for everyone is even more severe than the numbers reveal. The official measure of unemployment only includes persons who are currently available to work but do not have jobs, have actively looked for work at least once in the past four weeks, or were laid off and are waiting to be called back to work. This neglects those discouraged workers who have stopped “actively” looking for work, like the estimated 342,000 Americans that dropped out of the job market in April, and are thus not counted as unemployed.
Unemployment persists because jobs are scarce. The United States has lost approximately 11.6 million jobs as a result of the recession, the majority of which have not come back. The number of job openings also decreased by 44 percent and although they are steadily returning, they still have not reached pre-recession levels. Other evidence suggests that job distribution makes things harder as job growth is weak in key areas. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project Center, while 40 percent of job loss came from higher-wage industries, these industries account for only 14 percent of recent growth. This imbalance in job growth only further exacerbates the fact that there are less jobs overall.
So where do we turn to when times get rough? Why human services of course. In the past decade, job growth in the nonprofit sector has been steadily increasing, and the sector is currently the third largest employer amongst United States industries after retail trade and manufacturing. The health care, education, and social assistance not only provide crucial services to the public, they also provide needed jobs. As a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute highlights, this is especially true for New York City, where it’s Nonprofit Health Care and Social Assistance sector has added 31,400 since the onset of the recession while the private economy has added just 1,700 jobs. Just as individuals rely on the nursing and child care services provided through the nonprofit sector, so too do communities hit by unemployment. The Health Care and Social Assistance sector is a major employer of people of color with lower levels of education, and provides almost 40 percent of all jobs in the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough, serving as a support for some of the most economically vulnerable populations.
Human services are a good investment, for people, communities, and the economy in more ways than one. We should support this valuable sector as it supports working Americans and the greater public. For more information, be sure to check out the Human Services Council and Fiscal Policy Institute’s new reports: