Published November 18, 2009
When the unemployment rate hit a 26-year high of 10.2 percent in October, it captured national attention, but little has been said about the racial disparities among job seekers.
The unemployment rate for blacks is a whopping 15.7 percent and 13.1 percent for Latinos compared to 9.5 percent for whites.
When the recession started two years ago, the black unemployment rate was 8.9 percent compared to the national rate of 4.9 percent.
Influential black leaders have now begun pressuring President Obama, the country's first black president, to take action, saying they want him "to move forward" because in some communities, the male black unemployment rate hit 50 percent.
"Our country needs to move to create new jobs," Hilary Shelton, senior vice president of the NAACP, told Fox News.
A rising jobless rate in minority communities could pose a serious problem for Obama if voter enthusiasm begins to wane among these groups whose support helped sweep him into power last year.
Even though Obama is two months shy of his first year in office, some minority leaders have maintained support for his economic policies, including his $787 billion stimulus package and the jobs summit planned for next month.
"The administration has taken the steps to make sure that we can solidify our economy," Shelton said, adding that Obama "inherited eight years of bad economic planning and has stepped into an initiative in which we find our country losing jobs at an astronomical rate."
When Obama was asked in June to address the issue of higher unemployment rates among blacks, he said, "The best thing that I can do for the African-American community or the Latino community or the Asian community, whatever community, is to get the economy as a whole moving. If I don't do that then I'm not going to be able to help anybody. So that's priority number one."
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the Center for Employment Policy at the Hudson Institute, attributed the difference in jobless rates mostly to the fact that unskilled work is typically the first to vanish in a recession.
"The biggest job losses are in the manufacturing, construction sector and a disproportionately high percentage of minorities are employed in construction," she said.
Furchtgott-Roth said Obama should make a special effort to help unskilled workers.
"I think we should of course be helping the economy as a whole but we should also be focusing on unskilled workers because they're having the hardest time finding jobs," she said.
Last week, Obama announced a December jobs summit aimed at synching job growth with the stimulus package. Obama said the White House forum will gather CEOs, small business owners, economists, financial experts and representatives from labor unions and nonprofit groups "to talk about how we can work together to create jobs and get this economy moving again."
Shelton said the idea behind the jobs summit that Obama is to build coordination to create new jobs.
"We need the kind of coordination that not only comes from the White House and Congress, but also from both the public and private sectors of our society. If we are going to create sustainable, long range living wage jobs, we all have to work together to do it."
Shelton said a smart comprehensive approach is needed to break the back of the recession.
"If we invest our money into infrastructure development, it means we are fixing our bridges and creating jobs. It means we are repairing our schools and creating jobs and the economic underpinnings to sustain those schools.
Fox News' James Rosen contributed to this report.