The average unemployment rate in the first quarter of this year was 7.7 percent. But for African-American workers that rate was 13.6 percent. For Latinos, it was 9.5 percent.
And among those who do have jobs, wages are not rising.
Take Natividad Lucinda Ramirez, a 55-year-old janitorial worker at Washington's Union Station. She makes $8.75 an hour as an employee of a janitorial firm under contract by the federal government to maintain the historic train depot. She holds down a second job, working about 60 hours a week. She has no health care benefits. She is married and cares for six nephews.
"I've never asked for anything from the government," she said. But she joined a number of other workers Wednesday to call on Obama to issue an executive order mandating federal contractors to pay a higher wage.
A study by the public-interest organization Demos, which advocates for workers, concluded that nearly 2 million workers who have jobs paid by taxpayers earn less than $12 an hour, or the equivalent of $24,000 a year for fulltime work. Critics argue that any mandate to increase pay will result in higher costs to taxpayers. But Demos analysts argue that higher wages help save money by reducing employee turnover and save taxpayers by lowering the number of workers who obtain food stamps and other government benefits.