Despite Trump claims, racial unemployment gap persists

Despite a historic low, Black unemployment rate remains double the rate for white Americans.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Recently, Donald Trump tried to get on Black America’s good side by touting the low unemployment numbers for the Black community.

But what he didn’t say was that a persistent racial gap in unemployment numbers is still keeping the Black community from full economic recovery.

Yes, a 6.8 percent unemployment is the lowest recorded Black unemployment rate, and that’s a good thing. But it’s still much higher than the 3.7 percent unemployment rate for white people.

CNN Money reported that white unemployment has consistently averaged about half of the Black unemployment rate, and that gap hasn’t changed much over the years.

So, why is there a huge gap?

Researchers looking at the unemployment gap have pointed to a number of factors driving the numbers, ranging from a lack of access to educational opportunities to a higher rate of incarceration.

There’s also the fact that some employer practices shut out applicants of color. It’s harder for companies that use networking, for example, to find employees outside of a pool of their peers.

And, of course, there is just straight up discrimination.

“I think that the kind of biases that drive discrimination are very resilient and haven’t changed a lot,” said Northwestern University sociologist Lincoln Quillian, who conducted a 2017 meta-analysis looking at unequal treatment over the years. That analysis found that bias and unequal treatment had remained steady over the decades.

“There was a period of black catching up that occurred in the 1950s and ’60s after the civil rights movement,” Quillian said. “But after that, there’s been a lot more stability than change.”

Lower unemployment isn’t a magic fix

What’s more, even if Black unemployment is at a historic low, poverty levels aren’t budging.

The Federal Reserve noted that African-Americans still earn less and only have 15 percent of the wealth their white peers have.

“When I saw [the unemployment rate] come down below 7, I partially exhaled,” Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, said. “But the fact is that while we’re glad people are working, their paychecks don’t buy what their paychecks used to buy. And that’s got to be a part of any conversation.”

We still have a long way to go before we can celebrate a “healthy” economy for our community. And until persistent discrimination and poverty can be addressed, a single unemployment statistic isn’t enough.