Black Unemployment At 15.4%

While the new Employment Situation Summary for June posted by the U.S. Bureau Statistics was filled with good news, one group did not do well. Black unemployment was 15.4%, 39% above the national average of 11.1%. Over three million Black Americans were out of jobs.

The figures do not include people who work temporarily but would like full-time work, or those who are have not looked for jobs in over four weeks. The figure for Blacks when those are taken into account is much too low. The figure among Blacks when these are included likely approached 20% last month.

Some groups did better than the national average. Among adult men, the figure was 10.2%. Among Whites, it was 10.1%.

A look across other major categories showed that adult female unemployment was 11.2%, among Hispanics it was 14.5%, among Asians 13.8%, and among teenagers, the rate was 23.2%

Why is the Black unemployment rate so high? There is no single reason. There are several, however, that are very likely.

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, among 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 black workers compared to whites are extremely substantial.