When President Donald J. Trump made his braggadocios proclamation during the State of the Union Address in January, touting that the “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Although his statement was accurate, he failed to tell the whole story.
The December 2017 unemployment rate among African-Americans was 6.8 percent. Though it has risen since then, it was the lowest unemployment rate among African-Americans ever recorded. It is important to keep in mind, however, that unemployment rates have only been recorded since 1972.
For the president to pound his chest and take credit for the December results was disingenuous. Those who follow this issue understand the unemployment rate for all demographics have fallen steadily since March 2010, when the unemployment rate among Blacks stood at 16.8 percent. By the time Trump was sworn in as president last January, the unemployment rate among Blacks had declined ten points from its high in March 2010.
Despite the positive trend in this regard, the disparity in the unemployment rates between Blacks and Whites has continued to persist. Even as Trump relentlessly brags about unemployment rates among African-Americans, he has yet to acknowledge—let alone offer any ideas—about how to close that persistent difference in unemployment between Blacks and Whites.
Recent analysis by the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI) dramatized the impact of this nagging disparity in employment, particularly among African-American males, from another perspective.
Even with the steady decline in the unemployment rate in recent years, more than 21 percent of prime-working-aged—that is, ages 25 to 54—Black men in America did not work at all in 2016 nor were they able to earn any income. By contrast, only 10 percent of White men in the same age group did not work at all in 2016.
The number of Black men who did not work at all in 2016 demonstrated a dramatic increase from the 12.8 percent of Black men who did not work at all in 1972, the year the country began tracking this data.
Analyst and co-author of the EPI report, Janelle Jones, noted some key factors that contributed to the 2016 results. Included among them, the “disproportionate number of incarcerated black men and a lack of job opportunities for formerly incarcerated black men.”
In addition, Jones pointed to how education levels also impact “a person’s ability to find any kind of work, even if some jobs don’t require high school diplomas or college degrees.” She reported that among Black men who did not earn any income in 2016, “75 percent had a high school degree or less.”
Other factors that contributed to the number of Black men not in the workforce in 2016 were illness, disability, or inability to find employment.
The EPI report stressed that the majority of nonworking prime age Black men in 2016 were out of a job involuntarily—they wanted to work.
The full report is available on line at www.epi.org/publication/trends-in-work-hours-and-labor-market-disconnection/Stephanie Williams, Features WriterStephanie E. Williams is an award winning investigative reporter, editor and activist who has contributed to several Inland Empire publications. Williams spent more than thirty years as a middle-manager in the telecommunications industry before retiring to pursue her passion as a reporter and non-fiction writer. Beyond writing, Williams’ personal interests include stone-carving, drumming and sculpting.