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msnbc.com

Rosa Richardson lives less than 10 miles from the White House, but after spending more than a year looking for work, she has little faith in the economic policies of the Bush administration.

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:Bush is saying the economy is on a swing to turn around - I cannot see it,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s easy for him to say because he is not unemployed, and he has plenty of money — and his father has plenty of money.”

At a news conference Wednesday, President Bush expressed confidence that the economy would continue to grow “over the next 18 months.”

“We’re beginning to see hopeful signs of faster growth in the economy, which over time will yield new jobs,” Bush said. “Yet the unemployment rate is still too high. We will not rest until Americans looking for work can find a job.”

A trickle of data this week has raised hopes that perhaps the economy is picking up steam, but few economists expect that to translate into many more jobs soon. The government reports July employment data Friday, and on average analysts estimate the economy added 18,000 jobs last month, according to a Reuters survey. Although that would constitute an extremely weak performance for an economy which technically has been expanding since late 2001, it would be an improvement after a streak of five straight months of job losses.

Since January 2001, the economy has lost a staggering 2.5 million jobs, sending the unemployment rate in June to 6.4 percent, a nine-year high. The politically potent figure is calculated each month through a household survey, separate from the job figures, and economists generally expect it to drop to 6.3 percent when results are released Friday.

African-Americans like Richardson have been particularly hard-hit by the downturn in employment — an unfortunate but unsurprising result of an economy in which many minorities are marginalized, analysts said. Among whites, the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while among blacks the rate is more than double, at 11.8 percent.

“African-Americans historically take a bigger hit during recessions than whites do,” said Harry Holzer, professor of public policy at Georgetown University.

A survey released this week indicates that unemployment tends to hit African-Americans harder, too. According to the survey of 413 unemployed adults, 63 percent of African-Americans said they were “very concerned” they may have to take a job that pays less than their old job, while only 46 percent of whites shared that concern. And 80 percent of unemployed African-Americans said they were having troubles paying their bills, compared with 60 percent of unemployed whites, according to the Hart Research survey.

The survey results reflect the fact that blacks fear they are losing the enormous gains in employment and wages they achieved during the booming years of the 1990s, said Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project, which commissioned the survey. “Part of what this reflects is the concern that they are going to lose the ground that they gained in the 1990s,” he said. “Now they are back to where they started.”

Richardson, who is in her early 50s and last worked as a legal secretary, draws little connection between her race and her employment status. “It’s hurting everybody - not just the African-American. The ones that are blessed with a job — they need to hold onto it dearly. I haven’t talked with too many friends who know of (available) jobs.”

In February, Richardson appeared at a news conference held by NELP to advocate the extension of unemployment benefits. But Richardson’s benefits have long since expired, and she is living with a friend who was laid off nearly two years ago by a large non-profit organization where she had worked for 14 years.

“My faith is in the Lord, and it’s just really hard,” said Richardson, who appealed for any job leads, preferably in the Washington area.

There have been a few signs of hope this week, including a second straight week that saw a decline in initial claims for unemployment benefits. Although the weekly numbers are volatile, the improvement appears to indicate that at least companies are not laying off as many workers as they were earlier in the year. Analysts also were cheered by stronger-than-expected growth in the nation’s gross domestic product and an encouraging report of strong orders from manufacturers in the Chicago area.

“Hopefully, Friday’s job numbers will give us the sense that we’re headed in the right direction,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Economy.com. But he predicted the unemployment rate will rise to 6.5 percent as more people decide to look for work, encouraged by signs of an economic turnaround.

One of the biggest concerns is that if the unemployment rate continues to rise, consumer confidence will fall and spending will dry up, leading businesses to further delay spending and hiring. “It’s really a race to see if businesses pick it up before consumers pack it in,” said Zandi.

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