updated 9/7/2009 12:29:56 PM ET 2009-09-07T16:29:56

Despite the nation's highest jobless rate in 26 years, American workers are seeing some encouraging trends this Labor Day, according to a report released Monday by Rutgers University.

In its second national labor scorecard, the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations said that for workers still collecting a paycheck, the average inflation-adjusted wages have actually increased and wage gaps for women and minorities have declined.

Still, the jobless rate continues to rise.

The Labor Department last week said the unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent in August, the highest since 1983, reflecting a poor job market that will make it hard for the economy to begin a sustained recovery.

According to the study, nearly 17 percent of Americans are unemployed, discouraged from seeking work or underemployed. That's up from 10 percent last year.

"The bad news on unemployment is well-known. The risk of job loss has been quite stunning," said Rutgers professor Douglas Kruse, a labor economist who created the scorecard.

Kruse said some workers are adjusting by taking part-time jobs. According to the study, nearly 20 percent of workers have part-time jobs.

The Rutgers labor scorecard offered a mix of good and bad news:

  • From January to June, there were 16.1 million new unemployment claims, a 72 percent increase from 2008.
  • More than 1.2 million workers were in extended mass layoffs, more than double the 2008 figure.
  • Minorities and people with disabilities were harder hit by job market stresses. The unemployment rate is 8.6 percent for whites; 14.5 percent for blacks; 12.3 percent for Hispanics and 15.1 percent for people with disabilities.
  • More than 6 percent of the work force wants to work full time, but is working part time because they can't find full-time work.
  • Average inflation-adjusted earnings rose 5 percent from 2008 for non-supervisory workers, and median earnings for all wage and salary workers increased 3 percent.
  • The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour, or 9 percent higher than in 1999 after adjusting for inflation.
  • In 1999, women who worked full-time made 24 percent less than men on average. That gap has closed to 20 percent.
  • Black and Hispanic full-time workers earned 24 percent and 34 percent less than white workers a decade ago, respectively. Those figures have closed to 22 percent and 28 percent respectively.

The scorecard, which doesn't assign grades but charts whether indicators are improving or worsening, is based primarily on data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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