The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released unemployment numbers for the last month of 2017, revealing both positive and troubling signs for the American economy. 148,000 jobs were added in December, with the unemployment rate remaining unchanged at 4.1%. The unemployment rate for young people fell substantially to 8.9% from 9.6% in the month of November. These year-end numbers show a strong economy with a decreasing unemployment rate, but with a slower growth in jobs compared to the previous four years. Whatever positive signs exist are in spite of an administration that shows little regard for LGBT, undocumented, and women workers, continues to undermine the Affordable Care Act, and is set on rolling back workplace protections. Although the overall unemployment numbers look healthy, as we’ve seen throughout the year, racial disparities continue to plague the labor market.
Black and Latino youth ended the year facing a considerably higher unemployment rate than white and Asian youth. In the last month of 2017, the black youth unemployment rate ticked down to 13.3% with a 14.6% average for the year, and the Latino youth unemployment rate also decreased to 8.6%, with a 9.5% average for the year. In comparison, the white youth unemployment rate now sits at 7.2%, with a 8.1% year-end average, and the Asian unemployment rate, which experiences constant volatility due to the small sample size, is now at 2.8% with a 8.2% year-end average.
The youth labor force participation rate continued its downward trend through the end of 2017. That number is now at 54.6%, a decrease of 0.6% from the same time the previous year. The labor force participation rate measures how many people are employed out of the entire population, versus the unemployment rate, which only measures the proportion of unemployed people out of the population of people looking for work. A declining labor force participation rate indicates that fewer people are working, whether because they’ve left the workforce to attend school or take care of a child, or because they are looking for but unable to find a job. While the year-end youth labor force participation rate is only slightly lower than the 2016 rate, it falls far behind the more positive numbers seen in pre-Recession years.