February Unemployment for One Large Group Hit 7%, Almost Double the National Figure

The economy added 20,000 jobs in February, a disappointment by almost any measure. In the past two years, the average monthly job additions have been over 200,000. A silver lining was that the jobless rate dropped to 3.8%, one of the lowest levels in half a century. Not every group within the workforce was so fortunate.

The unemployment rate among black Americans rose to 7.0%. That is 86% above the national average. It is also 112% higher than the rate among white Americans and 125% above the rate for Asian Americans. The situation is not even nationwide, based on an analysis of the worst cities for black Americans.

The black unemployment rate also rose as the national rate fell. The jobless level for the entire country was 4.0% in January. The black jobless rate was 6.8%. The problem is worse when measured over a longer period. The November national jobless rate was 3.7%. February was essentially unchanged. The black rate in November was 6.0%, which shows just how much the jobless situation among the group has worsened.

Experts have given several reasons for the much higher rate of black unemployment. Among them is education. Twenty-two percent of black Americans between ages 25 and 29 have a college degree. Among whites, the number is 42%.  While a college education does not ensure a job, almost all research shows that a degree does make employment more likely. As is true with other factors, there are variations when the inequality between blacks and whites is measure by state.

Black Americans are about six times more likely to have spent time in prison, an article in The Guardian reports. According to the NAACP, “a criminal record can reduce the likelihood of a callback or job offer by nearly 50%” — nearly twice the impact suffered by white peers with a criminal record.

Another reason is that black workers are more likely to lose jobs than white ones. According to the Federal Reserve, this puts black workers back into the workforce more often, persistently keeping their rate of unemployment higher.

Another reason for high black unemployment rates is hard to measure precisely but is almost certainly present. Discrimination plays a role in the ability of black Americans to get jobs. At the most basic level, they are much less likely to be called back for job interviews than white job seekers, a trend that has not changed in almost three decades.

If the trends of the past several months continue, national unemployment rates will stay at or near multiyear lows. However, the improvement for black Americans will lag significantly.