Most experts believe that the July jobless report showed some pressure on the economy due to trade wars, especially with China. The unemployment rate was steady at 3.7% compared to June, and it remained near a five-decade low. The economy added 164,000 jobs last month. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports on unemployment rates by sex, race and age. The largest gulf between any two major groups was that between black Americans and white Americans. The rate among blacks was 82% higher than among whites.
The unemployment rates among that largest portions of the population in July were 3.3% for whites, 6.0% for black Americans, 4.5% for Hispanics and 2.8% for Asians. The jobless rate was 3.4% for adult men, the same rate for adult women, and 12.8% for teenagers. Teenagers are defined as those between 16 and 19 years old.
The overall unemployment rate has dipped modestly from July a year ago when it was 3.9%. The rate among white Americans is flat at 3.3%, the same as last July. The rate among blacks is down from 6.6%.
Several theories suggest why the difference between the black and white jobless rates is so large. None is considered definitive by all experts.
Among the most frequently given reasons for the difference is that “anti-discrimination” laws are not enforced adequately. While this may be true, it has been difficult to identify, for the most part, at specific employers or in specific industries.
Much easier to prove is the gulf in education. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, there were large gaps in reading and math achievement between black and white children in grade 4 and grade 12. Data was taken in 1992 and 2015, and no significant improvement was seen between the two periods. Education is a marker of both the extent to which people are hired and the level of income for those who are employed.
Some of the difference in the level of math and reading achievement may be based on the sums school districts spend on each student. According to EdBuild, in nonwhite districts the amount is $11,682. In mostly white districts, the figure is $13,908. The total gap nationwide means “nonwhite school districts receive $23 billion less than white districts, despite serving the same number of students.”
Another major reason for the employment gap is incarceration rates, many experts argue. According to Pew, “In 2017, blacks represented 12% of the U.S. adult population but 33% of the sentenced prison population. Whites accounted for 64% of adults but 30% of prisoners.” That means there were 1,549 prisoners per 100,000 blacks, compared to 272 per 100,000 whites. The data was based on numbers from federal prison. The hurdles to employment for people who have been in prison are high.
No single theory or piece of research by itself accounts for the difference in black and white unemployment. However, taken as a body, the research does show that the disadvantages for blacks are substantial compared to whites.