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Trump Gloats About Low Black Unemployment. But Has He Seen These Numbers?

Dennis Carter

Even relatively low Black unemployment rates, like the 5.2 percent rate in Tennessee, are far higher than the highest white unemployment numbers. 

The unemployment rate among Black people in the United States is at least twice white unemployment in 14 states and Washington, D.C., while President Trump repeatedly boasts about a downturn in Black unemployment that began during President Obama’s first term.

New unemployment numbers from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), based on Black unemployment data available for 22 states, show that states like South Carolina and Maryland have an especially large gap between unemployment rates among Black and white workers, while Washington, D.C., has the largest Black-white unemployment ratio of 8.5-to-1.

Black unemployment in the first quarter of 2018 was at or below pre-recession levels in 17 states, according to EPI. But in all but three of those states, “black labor force participation rates … were lower in the first quarter of 2018 than at the end of 2007, indicating that the return to pre-recession levels of unemployment in these states was not a full recovery for African American workers because not all discouraged job seekers have returned to the market,” EPI reports.

The highest Black unemployment rate (12.9 percent) is in Washington, D.C., which also sports the lowest white unemployment rate (1.5 percent). The highest white unemployment rate (5.2 percent) is in West Virginia. Even relatively low Black unemployment rates, like the 5.2 percent rate in Tennessee, are far higher than the highest white unemployment numbers.

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Janelle Jones, an economic analyst at EPI and author of the new unemployment report, said the decreasing Black unemployment rate “is not a result of policies put in place by the Trump administration. They inherited an economy well on its way to full employment. What we’re seeing today is a … continuing trend.” 

“Trump is taking a ridiculous amount of credit for [decreasing Black and Hispanic unemployment rates],” Jones told Rewire.News. “Try as he might, [Trump] hasn’t been able to derail it yet.” 

Jones said labor force participation should be taken into account when evaluating the employment prospects of Black people in the United States. One in four Black men with only a high school diploma and nearly half of Black men without a high school diploma are not in the workforce, according to an EPI analysis

“You have massive amounts of people disconnected from the labor force,” Jones said. “They’ve absolutely given up because there are no prospects. It’s terrible.” 

Black unemployment after the 2008 economic recession peaked in March 2010 at 16.8 percent, as the national unemployment rate stood at 9.9 percent. Both rates have steadily fallen since 2011, according to numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today’s Black unemployment rate stands at 6.6 percent, about three percentage points higher than the national white unemployment rate.

Trump in speeches and rallies with his supporters often cites the falling Black and Hispanic unemployment rates. He mentioned those rates this week during a speech at the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony gala, saying he was “proud” of the declining Black and Hispanic unemployment that began six years before he took office. The president, taking credit for Black people’s improving job prospects, asked his Twitter followers in January to inform hip-hop artist and businessman Jay-Z of the falling unemployment numbers.

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