Black Americans Are More Likely to Be Unemployed Than Any Other Racial or Ethnic Group

Paul Ausick

The 2018 fourth-quarter unemployment rate for African Americans was 6.5%, more than double the 3.1% rate among white Americans and the 3.2% rate among Asian Americans. Washington, D.C., had the highest African American unemployment rate (11.8%), and West Virginia’s unemployment rate for whites was 4.6%, highest among the 14 states and the District of Columbia for which data is currently available.

The national unemployment rate for Hispanic Americans is 4.5%, and Washington state has the highest rate of unemployment among Hispanics at 7.5%. The findings were published Wednesday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Valerie Wilson, director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, commented, “All racial and ethnic groups are making employment gains, as our economy continues to recover. But policymakers should pursue agendas to eliminate long-standing racial disparities in employment outcomes in their states.”

Compared to the white unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2007 (the last one before the beginning of the Great Recession), white unemployment has declined or remained unchanged in 45 states, with the largest declines coming in Michigan, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Hawaii.

For African Americans, the unemployment rate has declined to pre-recession levels in 18 states (out of 21 for which data is available). African American unemployment was lowest in Virginia and Florida. The District of Columbia’s black unemployment rate has been the highest for 10 consecutive quarters (these are the worst cities for Black Americans).

Unemployment among Hispanic Americans was lowest in Georgia and Oklahoma, and the rate is lower in 11 states than the pre-recession level in the 23 states and the District of Columbia for which data is available. Hispanic unemployment was lower than white unemployment in two states, Georgia and Oklahoma, and more than double the white unemployment rate in four states: Nebraska, Virginia, Connecticut and Pennsylvania (these are the worst states for Hispanics)

Asian American unemployment data for the fourth quarter is available for 11 states, and data for the change from pre-recession levels is available for eight states. The Asian unemployment rate is lowest in New York and highest in Washington. The rate has dropped below pre-recession levels in California, Hawaii, Nevada, New York and Texas. In New Jersey, Washington and Illinois, the fourth-quarter rate remains higher than in the fourth quarter of 2007.

The following table shows the percentage change in the unemployment rate for each state and the District of Columbia between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the fourth quarter of 2018.

Change in state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity from 2007Q4 to 2018Q4 (percentage points)

State White Black Hispanic Asian
United States −0.9 −2.1 −1.4 −0.3
Alabama −1.3 0.8 NA NA
Alaska −0.8 NA NA NA
Arizona 0.3 NA 0.4 NA
Arkansas −1.9 −1.4 NA NA
California −1.4 −4.1 −2.2 −1.6
Colorado −0.1 NA −1.6 NA
Connecticut −0.8 NA −2.4 NA
Delaware −0.3 2.0 NA NA
District of Columbia 0.4 1.9 NA NA
Florida −1.3 −1.2 −2.5 NA
Georgia −0.5 −2.4 −4.9 NA
Hawaii −2.1 NA NA −0.5
Idaho −0.5 NA NA NA
Illinois −1.0 −3.4 −2.0 0.4
Indiana −1.3 −3.9 NA NA
Iowa −1.2 NA NA NA
Kansas −1.0 NA NA NA
Kentucky −1.1 NA NA NA
Louisiana 0.8 −0.7 NA NA
Maine −1.7 NA NA NA
Maryland −0.1 −0.1 NA NA
Massachusetts −1.9 NA NA NA
Michigan −2.6 −8.9 NA NA
Minnesota −1.6 NA NA NA
Mississippi −0.8 −2.6 NA NA
Missouri −2.2 NA NA NA
Montana −0.3 NA NA NA
Nebraska −0.6 NA NA NA
Nevada −0.1 NA −1.6 −0.6
New Hampshire −1.4 NA NA NA
New Jersey −0.4 −2.7 −1.5 2.2
New Mexico 0.7 NA 0.1 NA
New York −0.4 −1.4 −2.4 −1.4
North Carolina −1.5 −1.3 −1.4 NA
North Dakota -0.1 NA NA NA
Ohio −0.2 −6.7 NA NA
Oklahoma −0.4 NA NA NA
Oregon −1.5 NA NA NA
Pennsylvania −0.9 1.7 NA NA
Rhode Island −2.1 NA NA NA
South Carolina −1.3 −5.9 NA NA
South Dakota −0.5 NA NA NA
Tennessee −1.6 -4.1 NA NA
Texas −0.5 −2.7 −0.2 0.0
Utah 0.6 NA 0.5 NA
Vermont −1.7 NA NA NA
Virginia −1.1 −1.0 0.8 NA
Washington −1.2 NA 1.7 1.0
West Virginia −0.1 NA NA NA
Wisconsin −1.5 NA NA NA
Wyoming 1.2 NA NA NA

Note: The table reports data only for state subgroups with sample sizes large enough to create accurate estimates.
Source: EPI analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data and Current Population Survey (CPS) data