African American History Month spotlights labor force

President Barack Obama may be the latest example of an African American making strides in the workforce, and the strides of black workers in America are worth noting as African American History Month, also called Black History Month, is upon us.

African American workers make up 11% of American workers or those looking for work, are younger than the total labor force, work more in education and health services than any other sector, and have made huge gains in getting an education and lowering their unemployment rate, and spend more time working and less time sleeping than others, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics publication.

Here are some highlights of the African American labor force:

* There were 17.7 million African Americans in the labor force in 2008, making up 11% of all Americans 16 and older who were employed or looking for work. About 16 million blacks were employed in 2008.

* They're younger than the total labor force, with 64% of black workers under age 45, compared with 59% of all labor force participants.

* More worked in the education and health services sector than in any other industry sector. More than 1 in 4 employed African Americans, or about 4.5 million, worked in education and health services. Throughout the U.S. workforce, just more than 1 in 5 were in education and health services.

* The number of African Americans with less than a high school diploma dropped from more than half of the African American labor force in 1970 to about one in 10 by 2008. Education beyond the high school level increased from 16% of the black labor force in 1970 to 54% in 2008.

* Not surprisingly, unemployment fell as education increased. Unemployment for blacks 25 and older without a high school diploma was more than 14%, and fell to 4% for college graduates.

* Black workers spend more time on work and work related activities and less on sleeping than all other employed people.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at

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