Black Unemployment Highest Since 1984

The last time black unemployment was this high Barack Obama was fresh out of college. Now, he's in the White House.

The last time black unemployment was this high Barack Obama was fresh out of college.

CNN Money (“Black unemployment: Highest in 27 years“):

Black unemployment surged to 16.7% in August, its highest level since 1984, while the unemployment rate for whites fell slightly to 8%, the Labor Department reported.

“This month’s numbers continue to bear out that longstanding pattern that minorities have a much more challenging time getting jobs,” said Bill Rodgers, chief economist with the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

Black unemployment has been roughly double that of whites since the government started tracking the figures in 1972. Economists blame a variety of factors. The black workforce is younger than the white workforce, lower numbers of blacks get a college degree and many live in areas of the country that were harder hit by the recession — all things that could lead to a higher unemployment rate. But even excluding those factors, blacks still are hit with higher joblessness.

Eyeballing the accompanying chart, while the black and white rates operate in almost precise parallel, the gap widens during extreme spikes:

The black unemployment rate was historic lows during the Bush presidency and has tripled since Obama too over. The culprit, of course, is the global recession rather than the change in leadership. The silver lining is that 16.7 percent is much better than the 23 percent levels of the Reagan recession.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    This would be significant if anyone could point to a single policy supported by the CBC that supported increasing employment of blacks in the private sector. Since the CBC is anti-private sector and spends all of its time trying to increase public sector employment for blacks or trying to rent seek from the private sector, it is hard to get excited about blacks being unemployed.

  2. Gustopher says:

    If it weren’t for us having a black President, I doubt anyone would bother to notice the unemployment rate of blacks is so much worse than it is for whites. At least, I doubt it would be getting the play it does on conservative blogs.

    If a little bit of wanting to rub Obama’s nose in things ends up with people internalizing the very obvious bit that unemployment for blacks is always higher than it is for whites, that might be a good thing.

    A quick look at the chart shows that the black and white unemployment rates aren’t parallel — they seem to be slowly converging. In the 80s, when unemployment for whites was edging up to 10%, for blacks it was topping 20%, now, it’s topping 15-16%. That gives me some hope.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: I just mean that both rates tend to go up and down at almost precisely the same time, indicating that they’re both functions of trends in the larger economy.

    The headline “Black unemployment: Highest in 27 years“ naturally evokes Obama but, as noted, it’s largely a function of the global meltdown. The bizarre thing is that–in contravention to the usual parallel trend–is that the black rate continues to worsen while the white rate peaked earlier in the cycle.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    @James Joyner:

    The unemployment rate for blacks is 3x that of whites. Yet, black politicians and community leaders do not push for behaviors that would lower the unemployment such as not having children as teenagers, staying in school, getting married before having children, or any other future time oreintation.

    Yet, the CBC pushes for more entitlements, more welfare, more set aisdes, more pork barrel spending, more make work jobs, and a bigger private sector.

    If the global market place is the cause of black unemployment, then what are black-amercians doing to help compete in the world marketplace?

  5. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner: “The bizarre thing is that–in contravention to the usual parallel trend–is that the black rate continues to worsen while the white rate peaked earlier in the cycle.”

    I noticed that, but I’m hoping it’s an aberration rather than the start of a new long-term trend. A quick eyeball of the graph suggests that (black unemployment / white unemployment) has been slowly decreasing for decades, going from about 2.0ish to 1.5ish.

    The job market is terrible for people without a college degree, and far fewer blacks have college degrees, so the growing difference might be partially explained by that — even with a continuing decline in the “you’re black so we won’t hire you” component.

    Every article I have found discounts this, quickly jumping to “But even excluding those factors, blacks still are hit with higher joblessness,” without delving into whether the higher rate of joblessness continues to decline accounting for those factors.

    I live in hope that old racists who make hiring decisions are retiring and being put in nursing homes by their children.

    But also, I think it’s important to figure out whether this jobless-recovery-heading-towards-double-dip-recession is especially hard on blacks, or just normally hard on blacks but especially hard on some other group which is disproportionately black. My gut instinct is that it is the latter.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: Racism is doubtless a component even today but culture is a far steeper barrier. There are all manner of programs trying to teach people who were raised in ghetto environments simple things like the need to show up on time–Every. Day.–for work. Showing up for an interview in cornrows or even totally-out-of-your-control things like an invented name will make it much harder to get hired, too, because they’ll make middle class whites see you differently. A lot of hiring managers will automatically screen out the Anfernys and Aishas from the pool.