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Trump’s misleading claim that 58 percent of black youths are unemployed

Trump says, "No group in America has been more harmed by Hillary Clinton's policies than African Americans." (Video: The Washington Post)
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“Look at how much African American communities are suffering from Democratic control. … Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed, what the hell do you have to lose?”

— Donald Trump, rally in Dimondale, Mich., Aug. 19, 2016

“He’s [Trump] saying, ‘How in the world can we abide a 58 percent unemployment rate among African American youth?’ ”

— Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Aug. 21, 2016

Regular readers of The Fact Checker know we have written about this figure in some of our round-up fact checks of Trump’s speeches.

But Trump continues to use it, and his new campaign manager has now adopted it as a talking point. Since we haven’t explored it in depth, we decided to take a more thorough look at what this figure means, and explain exactly why it doesn’t hold water.

The Facts

The official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate for black youth is 19.2 percent — about one-third of the rate Trump uses.

A Trump campaign official previously told us that they calculated the 58 percent using this data set from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, calculating the number of people classified as “unemployed” and “not in the labor force” as a percentage of the total civilian population.

“Unemployed” refers to people who are available for work and actively looking for a job, but don’t have one. “Not in the labor force” refers to people who are not looking for jobs because they have given up looking, or are not interested — such as students. Students working part time while going to school are counted in the “employed” category.

That means Trump is counting students who are not looking for work as a part of the “unemployed” population. Technically, those students don’t have jobs. But that does not fit the definition of “unemployed” and is especially problematic for this age group, because the number of people who aren’t looking for jobs includes people who are in school full time.

Consider a 16-year-old high school sophomore, who is going to school full time and engaged in extracurricular activities when not in school. The student doesn’t have a job but isn’t looking for one. Counting the student as “unemployed” — defined as a person who’s looking for a job but can’t find one — doesn’t tell you anything about the labor market.

“No economist, I would think, would feel comfortable using that because it’s counting people who may have no interest in having a job,” said Adam Millsap, research fellow for the State and Local Policy Project at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

The BLS did not come up with the definition of “unemployed” out of thin air. It actually reflects an internationally embraced definition set by the International Labor Organization in 1982.

If you apply Trump’s definition to white youth, 49 percent are “unemployed.” That’s five times the official BLS unemployment rate (10 percent) for white youth.

Asians fare worse than blacks using Trump’s fuzzy math. The BLS youth unemployment rate for Asians is 9.6 percent, lower than the rate for white youth. But under Trump’s calculation, the Asian youth unemployment rate jumps to 63.6 percent — seven times the official rate, and even worse than the 58 percent figure for black youth.

See how the calculations for Asian, black and white youth compare in this graphic below. (Thanks to Millsap for helping us with the calculation.)

The difference in Asian youth rates may reflect a cultural factor, Millsap said. Fewer Asian youths may be in the labor force because they are more devoted to school and work less, even part time. But their BLS unemployment rate may be lower because Asian youth are more successful at finding a job if they look for one.

A campaign official previously told the Fact Checker that its calculation “is a more comprehensive reflection of disengagement from the labor force than the unemployment rate,” as it includes those who are not finding work because they are discouraged from previous attempts at employment. But the campaign did not respond to our latest inquiry, specifically for this fact check, for an explanation of why the campaign includes those who are not interested in looking for work (i.e., students).

If Trump really is interested in the rate of disengagement among black youth, there is an academically accepted measure he can use. It’s called NEET, which stands for “Neither Employed nor in Education or Training.” This measure factors out students altogether, and measures the share of disconnected youth aged 16 to 24.

Pew Research Center’s Drew DeSilver, who has written about youth unemployment and NEETs, calculated a 2015 NEET rate among black youth 16 to 24 at 20.9 percent of the total civilian non-institutional population, compared with 14.7 percent among white youth of the same age range.

The Pinocchio Test

Youth unemployment is higher among blacks than whites, regardless of the method you use. But Trump’s figure doesn’t show how it’s a persistent problem for black youth compared with white youth, and fails to accurately reflect the state of the labor market for black youth 16 to 24 years old.

Per Trump’s math, a 24-year-old college graduate who is actively looking for a job but can’t find one is in the same situation as a 16-year-old high school sophomore who is in school full time and going to band practice or playing on a school sports team when not in class.

And per Trump’s math, more Asian youth are unemployed than black youth — even though Asian youth have a lower official BLS unemployment rate than whites or blacks. So Trump ends up using a calculation for black youth that greatly exaggerates the actual number of people who can’t find a job even though they are trying, while minimizing their rate in the context of Asian youth.

We previously awarded Four Pinocchios to Trump’s absurd calculation that the “real unemployment rate” is 42 percent — about eight times higher than the official BLS rate. He applies the same junk analysis for the black youth unemployment rate, which defies internationally accepted measures of unemployment while ignoring an actual measure of disengaged youth that could prove his point. We award Trump Four more Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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