Black Unemployment Rates at 76% Above National Average

Douglas A. McIntyre

The unemployment rate for black Americans was 6.7% in March, as the overall economy added 196,000 jobs, relatively low, historically, but still higher by 76% than the 3.8% rate among all Americans. The unemployment ratio to other groups in the United States shows that the situation among black Americans is even worse when compared to white and Asian Americans.

Across the principal categories used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its March Employment Situation Summary, the unemployment rate for adult men was 3.6%, for adult women 3.8%, teenagers 12.8%, white Americans 3.4%, black Americans 6.7%, Asians 3.1% and Hispanics 4.7%. This puts the black unemployment rate 97% higher than for white Americans and 116% higher than for Asians. The Census categorized about 12.3% of Americans as black.

What causes the stark differences between black American unemployment and that for the rest of the country, a gap that is not improving? The reasons are not simple, and there is no single dominant one. Among them is that black unemployment in large urban populations is often much higher than the national average for black Americans. This tends to push the national average up because of the large portion of Americans who live in big cities. For example, over 80% of the population of Detroit is black, where the unemployment rate is still well above the national average.

Another fundamental cause is the number of black Americans in prisons. The imprisonment rate among black Americans 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 white Americans. As prisoners move back into the general population, it is much harder for them to get jobs than other people. Employers often are wary of hiring people with criminal records.

Another likely reason is 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 its Worst Cities for Black Americans feature: “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, current 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics started to keep figures. And the trend shows no sign of changing. There is no set of circumstances under which it is imaginable that the unemployment rate among black Americans will ever fall to the level of the national average.