While unemployment has come down dramatically since the Great Recession, rates continue to be high for African-Americans. The reasons are not fully clear.
The national unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in January and 4.3 percent for whites, huge improvements over the depths of the Great Recessions, However, the rate for African-Americans was 8.8 percent.
According to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, the black unemployment rate was at or below its pre-recession levels in only nine states by the end of last year.
The Northwest is a question mark as its states don’t break out black unemployment. This is apparently because they are a very small subgroup in the region. Blacks made up 4.2 percent of Washington’s population vs. 13.2 percent nationally in 2014. Hispanic unemployment is higher than that for Anglos.
The report states, “Of the states where the black unemployment rate has recovered, only Texas, New York, New Jersey, and Tennessee have black unemployment rates lower than the national average for blacks. The black unemployment rate remains most elevated above its pre-recession level in Alabama (5.1 percentage points higher). Before the recession, the African American unemployment rate in Alabama was 5.3 percent—nearly half of what it is now.”
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The causes are not explained by educational differences. As another EPI report showed, African-Americans have nearly twice the same unemployment rates for similarly educated whites.
The lowest black unemployment rate since the stat was broken out in the early ’70s came with 7 percent in April 2000, at the end of the long boom. The highest was 21.2 percent in January 1983, after a severe recession. By comparison, the peak during the Great Recession was 16.6 percent in January 2010.
The damage to African-Americans from unemployment is long-standing and its causes are not entirely understood. Many were displaced when factories and offices moved out of urban areas in the 1960s and they were less likely to have cars. Others were hurt by offshoring jobs in lower-skilled industries.
The damage doesn’t happen in isolation. It was very difficult for black families to accumulate intergenerational wealth during the century of Jim Crow. And even today, white workers have nearly five times as much wealth in retirement accounts as black workers.
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