Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney posted on his website this morning that "Today's increase in the unemployment rate is a hammer blow to struggling middle-class families." The reality is that the burden of unemployment has been felt hardest on those in working-class factory, construction, and low-wage service jobs, as evidenced by the detailed jobs report released today.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics's "Employment Situation" [PDF] report revealed that the July national unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged at 8.3 percent (compared to June's 8.2 percent) and 163,000 new jobs were created during the month. But beneath all the hubbub, the real story lies in the ebb of three categories: education, occupation, and geography.
Education is the first key differentiator when it comes to unemployment. A BLS table reveals that the unemployment rate for July for those with Bachelor's degrees or higher is 4.5 percent (not seasonally adjusted), versus 12.2 percent for those that didn't finish high school. Both rates decreased slightly since the same time last year, although those with the higher level of education saw a smaller change (-0.2 percentage points) versus -1.9 points for those without a high school diploma.
Unemployment also varies substantially by the kind of work we do. This table shows the unemployment rate for management and professional workers remains similarly low to last year at 4.8 percent (5.0 percent in July of 2011), whereas the rate for service jobs (i.e. lower-skill, lower wage service occupations) remains high at 9.1 percent (a -0.7 percentage point change from last year). But production occupations (factory workers) are at 9.6 percent, transportation and material moving at 10.1 percent, and construction still at 12.9. Those are down from a year ago, but still two to three times management and professional.
Geography is the third key element of unemployment. The BLS also released their June report on unemployment in Metro areas on Wednesday. There was tremendous geographic variation in U.S. unemployment: 12 percent in Orange County and Las Vegas, 11 percent in Detroit and Los Angeles, and a whopping 28 percent in El Centro in southern California's Imperial Valley. The largest rate decrease from June of last year was in Joplin, Missouri (-2.8 percentage points), whereas Elmira, New York, saw the largest increase in unemployment (+1.4 percentage points).
When it comes to unemployment, it's crucial to look beyond the national figure to the fault-lines of education, work and geography to understand how these factors influence and react to the economic tide.