In April 2018, the unemployment rate for black Americans hit its lowest point on record — 6.6 percent. The figure is volatile (it rose 0.9 points in January and fell 0.8 in February), but the long-term trend is clear. Black unemployment continues to drop.
And yet the unemployment rate for blacks is still 83 percent higher than the rate for whites. In fact, since the government started tracking unemployment by race, the black unemployment rate has never been less than 66 percent higher than the rate for whites.
Overall, the unemployment rate fell to 3.9 percent, the first drop in half a year. That’s the lowest overall figure since December 2000 (shortly after which a recession kicked in). The unemployment rates for whites and Hispanics are about where they’ve been for a few months. As noted above, the rate for black Americans has never been lower.
But consider that rate in the context of the history of the white unemployment rate.
In more than three-quarters of the months since March 1973, white unemployment has been lower than black unemployment is now. To put a fine point on it: White unemployment has been lower than the all-time low black unemployment three months out of every four. When white unemployment was last at 6.6 percent, black unemployment was over 14 percent.
In a third of months, white unemployment has been lower than where Hispanic unemployment is now. But both Hispanic and black unemployment has always been higher than white unemployment. The closest Hispanic unemployment got to white unemployment was in 2006, when the unemployment rate for Hispanics was 22 percent higher than that of whites.
The closest black unemployment has gotten was right as unemployment rates were peaking in 2009. At that point, black unemployment was 66 percent higher than white unemployment. For that gap to hit a new low, black unemployment this month would have needed to be no higher than 5.9 percent.
President Trump likes to tout the improvements black Americans have seen during his presidency, including that continued decline in the unemployment rate. Since January 2017, though, the gap between black and white unemployment hasn’t changed much, generally wavering in a range from 80 to 100 percent higher.
There are obviously books to be written — books that have been written — about the reasons for that persistent gap. What the gap suggests, though, is that while black employment has improved significantly since the peak of the recession, there are probably still systemic issues preventing black Americans from being employed at rates equivalent to that of whites.
The drop in black unemployment has been an unmitigated success story for both Barack Obama and Trump. If that gap (and the gap between Hispanic and white unemployment) could be closed, though? That would be a stunning accomplishment.