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Fancy footwork on job numbers

Mayor Emanuel’s op-ed in last Sunday’s Washington Post, framed as advice to the Democratic Party, may or may not be an attempt to get out in front of the 2016 presidential field.

Emanuel touts his infrastructure trust, introduction of competition for early education dollars, longer school day, and reorganization of City Colleges as the model for a national program.

As proof of the wisdom of his policies,  he cites Chicago’s latest employment figures, with 42,500 more people employed this October over October 2011 – stronger growth than any other city, he proclaims.  It’s a neat statistic, though it’s also an example of Emanuel’s proclivity for announcing results before initiatives have even been implemented.

Employment numbers vary from month to month – over the last year, monthly numbers for Chicago have ranged from a gain of 17,537 (in August) to a loss of 9,744 (in July) — so picking your data point can make a big difference in bragging rights.  But it does seem that for a few months at least, job growth has been stronger in Chicago than elsewhere, though it’s not due to anything Emanuel has done.

One statistic doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. It also turns out that while employment increased from September to October, unemployment also increased, rising a half point to reach 10 percent, according to World Business Chicago. But hey, that’s progress: it’s down 0.3 percent from two years ago.

Maybe it’s a good sign that more people are looking for work.  But unfortunately, too many are not finding it.

And in Emanuel’s Chicago, they’re far more likely to be out of work if they’re African American.  As the health department’s new database on socioeconomic indicators reveals, the distribution of unemployment is wildly uneven in Chicago.

Five community areas including the Loop, Lakeview, and Lincoln Park had unemployment rates below 5 percent.  In nine community areas, all on the South and West Side, unemployment was over 20 percent.  In West Englewood, it was over 34 percent.

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Black unemployment high in Chicago; wage-sharing could save jobs

While releasing a new report showing Chicago among the top cities in the nation for African American unemployment, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability is urging the state to avail itself of new federal funding for “wage-sharing” programs that reduce layoffs.

The Chicago area had the third highest African American unemployment rate in the nation last year, according to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute released here by CTBA.  While unemployment among African Americans fell in most metropolitan areas last year, in Chicago it increased by 1.7 percent to 22.6 percent.

In 2010, five other metropolitan areas had higher black unemployment rates than Chicago; last year only Los Angeles and Las Vegas did.

St. Louis, Atlanta, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington and Richmond had black unemployment rates that were below the national average of 15.9 percent, according to the report.

Chicago is also near the top in the ratio of black to white unemployment, with African Americans here 2.5 times more likely to be unemployed.

One significant factor could be heavy cuts in public service jobs, which disproportionately impact the black community, said Ron Baiman of CTBA.

Federal funds for wage-sharing

A new initiative could help keep those numbers from rising further. Baiman said the federal government recently issued regulations for a provision in the jobs bill passed in February, under which the federal government will provide 100 percent funding for wage-sharing programs.  (See CTBA’s fact sheet on the program.)

Under such programs, workers receive partial unemployment benefits to cover lost wages when their employers reduce their hours in order to prevent layoffs.  Currently 21 states have wage-sharing programs.

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