The latest unemployment numbers are great if you’re not black

The latest jobs figures were positive, but for African Americans the economic picture is quite different.

by David A. Love thGrio | 3/9/2015, 1 p.m.
The latest jobs figures were positive, but for African Americans the economic picture is quite different.
File photo (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Does a rising tide lift all boats, as President Obama once said? The economy is improving, and that’s a good thing, right? It depends on who you’re asking. While the economy is moving ahead, blacks are being left behind.

Fifty years since the march from Selma to Montgomery, we are reminded that institutional racism, racial disparities in wages and wealth, and discrimination based on color are still a harsh reality of American life. And we have a long way to go.

The latest jobs figures released by the Labor Department for February were positive, even better than expected, with 295,000 workers added last month. The official unemployment rate — which is artificially low, failing to account for people who are not actively looking for a job, the underemployed, and all those college graduates flipping burgers – dropped to 5.5 percent, down from 5.7 percent in January and the lowest since the middle of 2008. However, wages were sluggish, rising a mere 0.1 percent.

For blacks, the economic picture is quite different. While the unemployment rate for whites was 4.7 percent, it was 10.4 percent for blacks, 6.6 percent for Latinos, and 4.0 percent for Asians. Traditionally, in fact, for the past six decades, black unemployment has remained double that of whites. This racial gap tends to be higher in the Midwest and the South.

The president has argued that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” and that his policy reforms would disproportionately benefit African-Americans. Perhaps that would be the case if everyone owned a boat. And black folks could use as much as a life raft, because many have found themselves underwater and sinking.

The disparities are glaring, bleak and sobering. Although we are told that education is the key to success, black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as other graduates, while African-American college students are about as likely to be hired as white high school dropouts. Even worse, white convicts have about the same chances of getting a job as blacks without any criminal record. Meanwhile, a black woman make 64 cents for every dollar a white man earns, and a black man makes 72 cents. White women earn 77 cents for each dollar white men make.

Part of the problem is that black workers tend to be the first fired when the economy tanks. In addition, they have suffered more than others from the shrinking of government jobs, as African-Americans benefited from government as the employer of last resort, when the private sector would not hire them.

Further, job discrimination continues to plague black people. Everyone has heard of the employer bias against people with black-sounding names. And hiring managers are more likely to believe black applicants are drug users. In addition, African-Americans face jobless discrimination in cases where hiring managers weed out unemployed candidates, given that black workers are unemployed at twice the rate of white workers. As a result, blacks find themselves over-represented in low-wage jobs rather than in higher-paying professional positions.