Unemployment rates for all minority groups fell for the first time in four months, a sign that people of color, who have higher unemployment levels than whites, are finding work in the highly competitive job market in a still-uneven economy.
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Overall, the unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percentage points to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since President Obama took office in January 2009. Job growth continued modest improvement, with payrolls climbing by 114,000 people, following August's addition of 96,000 positions.
Asians, currently the nation's fastest-growing racial group, experienced the largest drop in unemployment rates, falling 1.1 percentage points to 4.8 percent.
Hispanics, which account for 16 percent of the U.S. workforce, were on par with the national average, declining 0.3 percentage points to 9.9 percent unemployment.
Comparatively, whites fell just 0.2 percent to 7 percent unemployment.
African-Americans still experience the highest rate of unemployment compared with other racial or ethnic groups, though their rate dropped by 0.7 percentage points to 13.4 percent in September. This is the first month since June that the jobless rate for blacks fell below 14 percent.
Black women made larger gains compared with their male counterparts. The unemployment rate for women dropped more than 2 percentage points to 10.9 percent, compared with a fraction of a percentage point for black men. A report addressing employment among Millenials says 21 percent of blacks ages 18-29 have no job, compared to 11.8 percent for young Americans nationwide.
Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis attributed the significant drop to people returning to work, not leaving the workforce. "We saw unemployment drop for every group across the board last month," she said. "The fastest-growing group of new hires was young people ages 20 to 24 — a very encouraging sign for our country."
Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, acknowledged the improvement in the labor market but cautioned against early celebration. People should wait to see whether the unemployment rates continue to drop or if the September unemployment rates are an anomaly, since month-to-month figures are highly volatile, she said.
"The larger trend is that improvement is really, really slow for all these groups," said Shierholz, a labor economist. The fact that unemployment decreased for people of all races should be greeted with optimism coupled with a "healthy dose of wait and see."
While it's not entirely clear why minorities saw modest unemployment gains, a recent study found that most jobs generated during the economic downturn have been in low-wage sectors, including the retail, food-service and home-care industries, areas where low-skilled people and minorities are disproportionally employed.
Of the 114,000 jobs added in September, most were in the health care, transportation and warehousing sectors. Over the past year, some 295,000 health care jobs were added. The manufacturing arena was the biggest loser, shedding 16,000 jobs.