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After Hitting Record Low In December, African-American Unemployment Rate Rises


And now to the economy, stocks took a sharp dive on Wall Street today. We'll hear about that in a few minutes. Despite that market drop, there was some good news for workers today. The U.S. economy continued to add jobs at a healthy clip in January and, on top of that, provided the strongest wage gains in years. NPR's John Ydstie has more.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust, says today's employment report shows the U.S. economy continues to have a lot of energy. After all, businesses added 200,000 jobs to their payrolls in January.

CARL TANNENBAUM: And in addition, we saw the strongest rate of wage increase since 2009.

YDSTIE: Wages rose 2.9 percent over the past year. And Tannenbaum says higher wage growth will support more economic activity.

TANNENBAUM: The increases in income that we're seeing will be a boost to consumption going forward.

YDSTIE: The White House suggested the big corporate tax cut might have contributed to the wage gain, but Tannenbaum says it's probably too early to see the tax cut's effects. Economist Heidi Shierholz says some credit should go to minimum wage hikes in 18 states and 20 cities in January.

HEIDI SHIERHOLZ: So by our estimates, more than 4.5 million workers at the low end of the labor market got a raise.

YDSTIE: There was one disappointing number in today's report - a sharp rise in the unemployment rate for African-Americans. It rose nearly a full percentage point after reaching a historic low in December. But Schierholz, the former chief economist at the Labor Department, is skeptical.

SHIERHOLZ: I don't actually think the labor market deteriorated for black Americans in January.

YDSTIE: She says that number is volatile because of a small sample size. Better to look at a three-month average, she says, which would put black unemployment at 7.2 percent.

SHIERHOLZ: That compares to 4.1 percent unemployment overall. So we still have very disparate outcomes by race in the labor market.

YDSTIE: But the tighter the labor market gets, the more progress that can be made on that front. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.