STATEMENT: Proactive Economic Policy Necessary to Break Down Barriers Facing Black Workers, Says CAP Economist Kate Bahn
The top-line figures from today’s jobs report are, at first glance, generally positive, with wage growth reflecting increases to the minimum wage that are effective in January. However, black workers—who historically have been left behind in the job market—continue to see high rates of unemployment. President Donald Trump’s claims of record-breaking improvements to the employment situations of “the forgotten men and women” is incorrect.
Recently, on the eve of Black History Month, Trump lashed out at criticism over how his administration has interacted with the black community by taking credit for a temporary dip in black unemployment in December, at 6.8 percent. Trump’s retort reflects a fundamental ignorance of statistical significance; for instance, month-to-month changes, such as the 0.4 percentage point drop from November to December, are not statistically significant—nor verifiable—for subgroups of workers. It also overlooks the full picture of the labor market outcomes facing African Americans. Unemployment is still twice as high for black workers than it is for white workers, at 7.7 percent compared with 3.5 percent. Young black workers, ages 16 to 19, have an unemployment rate of 24.3 percent compared with 12.4 percent for white teen workers, which often leads to long-term reduced opportunity.
It has become common to acknowledge the declining labor market opportunities facing American workers with less than a college degree. But since the labor market’s peak in 2000, black men, black women, and white women have all suffered greater employment rate declines compared with white men. On top of this, black workers continue to face wage discrimination, leading to significant racial wage gaps and reduced economic security. These persistent historical trends constrain the potential of the American economy and can only be overcome through proactive economic policy that breaks down the barriers facing black workers, rather than relying on overall trends of a tightening labor market.
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