National Data | Blacks (And Other Americans) Lose Employment Ground On Obama’s Watch

An extraordinary ninety-five percent of black voters cast their ballots for Barack Obama. But, funny thing, blacks have suffered more than any other group during the Obama years. The winners: immigrants.

Just look at unemployment rates. While Black unemployment has for decades exceeded that of other groups, and was notably slow to improve after the 2001-2002 recession, the gap widened noticeably during the Obama years in spite of the fact that the Federal Government, and especially the Obama Administration has de facto discrimination in favor of black employment:

 

Black Unemployment Growth 1

In words: at the start of Obama administration (January 2009),

  • The unemployment rate for African Americans was 12.7%. In August 2011 (latest available data) Black unemployment was 15.9% —the highest monthly jobless rate for any race or ethnic group during the Great Recession.
  • Unemployment rates also increased for Hispanics over this period, from 9.9% to 11.3%. 
  • White unemployment was 7.1% at the start of 2009; by August 2011 it was 8.0%.

(Note that my chart does not include Asians unemployment, 7.1% in August, because Washington chooses not to make seasonally adjusted figures available for them.)

Of course, there’s a paradox about unemployment. When confidence is low, people give up; they stop looking for jobs. Ironically, these labor force dropouts keep unemployment rates low because they are not counted as unemployed. So employment growth is probably a better measure of economic success than lower unemployment rates.

Although it’s common to hear laments about the “widening gap” between black and white workplace experiences, the similarities between those experiences are sometimes more striking—especially in employment growth (or lack of it). The real “gap” is between blacks and whites on the one hand, and Hispanics and Asians on the other—or, effectively, between native-born Americans and immigrants.

Black Unemployment Growth 1

 

 

  • From January 2009 to August 2011 both whites and blacks suffered employment declines: Black employment fell by 540,000, or 3.5% and white employment fell by 2.5 million, or 1.8%.
  • By contrast, more Asians and Hispanics held jobs at the end of the period than at the start of the Obama years.

Particularly hard hit: Black teenagers. Since Mr. Obama took office the number of blacks 16 to 19 years old holding jobs has declined by 162,000 – a 32.6% reduction. Over the same period teenage employment declined by 17% for whites and 15% for Hispanics.

Mass immigration is one explanation. Many of the low-skilled jobs traditionally filled by Black youths are now filled by older workers—often illegal immigrants—working at sub-minimum wages.

While these entry-level jobs didn’t pay much, they instilled a work ethic and taught skills useful in more advanced occupations.

An entire generation of Blacks may be lost to the labor force.

Footnote: Black poverty rates have exceeded the national average for years. The latest data, for 2010, show a continued deterioration. More than one quarter (27.4%) of Blacks had income below the poverty line in 2010. That’s nearly twice the national poverty rate (15.1%) and about three-times the rate for non-Hispanic whites (9.9%.)

The Black poverty rate grew by 1.6 points in 2010; the national rate rose by 0.8 percentage points.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.