The December jobs report was almost entirely positive. The economy added 312,000 jobs, the best performance in 10 months. At 3.9%, the jobless rate was down from 10.1% at the depth of the Great Recession. One group has not done nearly as well. Black unemployment was at 6.6% for the month, almost 70% above the national average.
The new jobless rate for black Americans is also the highest among the past five months, so it is rising while the national rate falls. It is also much higher than other ethnic groups. In December, the unemployment rate among white Americans was 3.4%, among Asians 3.3% and among Hispanics 4.4%. The reason the black American figure does not much affect the total number is that 13.4% of Americans are black, according to the Census Bureau. On a positive note, black unemployment is the lowest since relative measures were started in 1972.
Black unemployment is uneven geographically, higher for the most part in the southern states of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida. The other concentration of high black unemployment is in several of the old industrial states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania. The highest black unemployment rate is traditionally in the District of Columbia.
There is no single explanation for the high figure. A Federal Reserve study showed that black Americans are more likely to lose jobs than the rest of the population. The data also pointed out, without a hard conclusion, that “personal or institutional discrimination” may play a part.
Among other reasons, the NAACP pointed out that people who have been in prison are much less likely to find jobs than those who have not. Pew recently pointed out that “At the end of 2016, federal and state prisons in the United States held about 486,900 inmates who were black and 439,800 who were white.” Much of the black population is at a disadvantage because of the pattern of incarceration.
One other reason given by experts about the jobs market is that blacks are less likely to have college degrees than whites. Skilled jobs tend to be stable, which gives the highly educated part of the population an advantage when it comes to getting and keeping jobs.
The fact of the matter is that there is no single explanation for the high level of black unemployment. There are a number of theories and studies that pick up part but no complete reason for the problem.