Metro areas where blacks and whites have very different employment prospects


People attend a job fair in Detroit on March 1, 2014. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)

While new government data out Friday reaffirms that the job market is slowly, steadily recovering, that recovery continues to sweep up some workers while leaving others behind. The latest unemployment rate for blacks, 12.4 percent, is still more than twice the rate for whites, at 5.8 percent (that's a pattern that's held steady for years).

In many of the nation's largest job markets, the gap is even wider. In its annual State of Black America report released this week, the National Urban League looked for the first time at "unemployment equality" in the country's 77 largest metropolitan areas. By the Urban League's index, these are the most equal Metropolitan Statistical Areas, where the gap between black and white unemployment was the smallest, using American Community Survey one-year estimates from 2012:

most-equal

The Urban League ranked metros by taking the ratio of white unemployment to black unemployment. And so in top-ranked Augusta, above, for instance, the white unemployment rate is 63.9 percent of the black one (perfectly equal metros would have a score of 100 percent). The Washington/Arlington/Alexandria metropolitan area ranks among the 10 least equal metros in the graph below, despite what looks like a relatively narrow gap. That's a reflection of the fact that white unemployment is so low in the region; still, it's about one-third the rate of black unemployment (or 35 percent of it, relative to 35.2 percent in metropolitan St. Louis):

least-equal

A couple of important trends emerge between these two pictures: Many of the "most equal" metros in the Urban League's analysis have relatively small minority populations. The opposite is true of St. Louis, Washington, Chicago and Cleveland. The more equal metros are also not the places with the strongest labor markets.

If you look again at those top 10 metros where the unemployment gap is the smallest, none of them rank among the metros with the lowest unemployment rates in the country for either blacks or whites. They're also not the places with relatively high median incomes. Those cities may have greater racial equality as far as unemployment is concerned, but that's not because everyone is doing well together.

A Brookings report on income inequality released in February underscored a similar pattern: America's most equal metros, however you assess them economically, are seldom the places that are thriving.

Emily Badger is a reporter for Wonkblog covering urban policy. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities.

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