According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 304,000 jobs in January and the national unemployment rate was 4%. The level for Black Americans was 6.8% which is about what the number has been across the nation during some modest recessions.
The comparison is even worse when put side by side with certain other groups. The level for Whites in January was 3.5%. The level for Blacks was 94% higher than that. The level for Asians was 3.1%. The rate for Blacks was 120% higher than that figure. The BLS summarized the national numbers, “Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Hispanics increased to 4.9 percent in January. The jobless rates for adult men (3.7 percent), adult women (3.6 percent), teenagers (12.9 percent), Whites (3.5 percent), Blacks (6.8 percent), and Asians (3.1 percent) showed little change over the month.”
The level of Black unemployment has actually gotten worse over the last several months. It was 6.6% in December, and 6% in September. That means in five months, the figure has risen 12%.
The reasons for the high level of unemployment among Black Americans are not simple. One is that Black unemployment in large urban populations is much higher than the national average for Blacks. This tends to push the national average up. The figure in some cities is as high as 25%.
Another key cause is the number of Black Americans in prisons. The imprisonment rate among Blacks was 1,609 per 100,000 people in 2016 according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics arm of the U.S. Department of Justice The figure was 274 per 100,000 for Whites. As prisoners move back into the general population, it is much harder for them to get jobs compared to people in the general population.
Another reason is likely ongoing segregation which tends to keep Black Americans from the best public schools and better housing. Camille M. Busette, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution told 24/7 Wall St. in an interview for the website’s “Worst Cities for Black Americans” “People are not walking around, working together, going to school together, taking the same metro together, et cetera. So there isn’t a lot of familiarity.”
By the measure of recession figures, Black unemployment rates are high. In the 2002 recession, the national unemployment rate was barely above 6% at its worst. The same was true during the 1972 recession.
The chasm between the Black unemployment rate and that of most other groups in the population has been wide since the BLS started to keep figures. And, the trend shows no sign of changing.