State unemployment rates are above the national average and African-Americans are experiencing joblessness at nearly three times the rate of whites according to a report released Thursday. Six percent of white residents in Arkansas are unemployed while 16 percent of African-Americans are jobless. The current overall state unemployment rate is 8 percent.
Senior Policy Analyst Eleanor Wheeler said the effect is not limited only to the welfare of individual families.
“When people don’t have any money to spend that means they’re not investing in their local communities and local business owners aren’t getting the demand they need to hire more people and expand their business, it’s a cycle,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler said underemployment, or involuntarily working too few hours to support a family, also poses a disproportionate problem for African-Americans. The report proposed education could close the gap.
“If we start early with pre-K that has a big impact on achievement outcomes. It also helps to close the gap early between minority and white students. In addition to that higher education is one of the biggest factors in employability. If we improve access to higher education then we can help all Arkansas have the opportunity to find good jobs,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler also argued increasing the minimum wage would benefit families regardless of education levels. The report contends reducing employment disparities will also positively impact the economy as a whole.