Black Unemployment Falls Below 10% Yet Still Higher Than Whites
We know that the economic recovery’s effects have been unevenly felt. The recovery has been kind to those who invested in certain stocks or whose title begins with the word “chief.” It’s been less charitable to certain groups, like African American workers, whose unemployment rates have lingered in the double-digits for most of the past eight years.
For the first time since 2007, the national unemployment rate for African Americans dipped below 10 percent in the second quarter of 2015, according to the Labor Department. Despite that improvement, at 9.5 percent, it’s still nearly twice the national average of 5.3%, and more than double the 4.6% rate for whites.
Overall, only 11 states had African American unemployment rates below 10%, according to an analysis by Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy. Only eight states have seen unemployment rates for black workers fall below pre-recession levels. In Alabama, the African unemployment rate is more than twice what it was pre-recession: 10.9%, compared with less than 5% throughout 2007.
The nationwide average masks wide variations between states and between races. For example, Tennessee has the lowest unemployment rate for black workers, at 6.9%. But that’s about the same rate as the state with the highest unemployment rate for whites, West Virginia, where unemployment stood at around 7% for the quarter.
Similarly, the ratio of unemployment rates for black and white workers swings from the low end in Tennessee, where the black unemployment is 1.2 times that of whites, to a ratio of 5.1 in Washington, D.C. Dr. Wilson attributes the especially high rate of black unemployment to the District’s concentrated urban population, which she said is not entirely comparable to state populations.
Why the gap? Dr. Wilson points to education and work experience as two major factors. Twenty-two percent of blacks had completed four years of college in 2014, versus 32% of whites, according to the Census Bureau.
However, as researchers at the Center for Economic Policy Research have pointed out, that piece of paper is no hedge against unemployment: a 2014 analysis found that 12.4% of black college graduates aged 22 to 27 were unemployed, compared with 5.6% of all college graduates in the same age group.