Most experts believe that the September jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed some pressure on the economy due to trade wars, particularly with China. However, the unemployment rate was down to 3.5%, a five-decade low, from 3.7% in August. The economy added 136,000 jobs last month, below most expectations.
The bureau also reports on unemployment rates by sex, race and age. The jobless rates among black Americans was 5.5%, or 57% higher than the national figure.
The unemployment rates among that largest portions of the population in September were 3.2% for whites, 5.5% for black Americans, 3.9% for Hispanics and 2.5% for Asians. The jobless rate was 3.2% for adult men, 3.1% for adult women and 12.8% for teenagers, defined as those between 16 and 19 years old.
Among the largest gulfs between any two major groups was that between black and white Americans. The rate among blacks was 72% higher than among whites. The overall national unemployment rate has risen modestly from September a year ago, when it was 3.7%. The rate among white Americans was 3.3% in September last year. The rate among blacks that month was 6.0%.
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. That makes enforcement on a wide basis almost impossible.
Much easier to show 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 grades 4 and 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 differences 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 black Americans, compared to 272 per 100,000 whites. The data was based on numbers from federal prisons. 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 extremely substantial compared to whites.