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The black unemployment rate has never been closer to the white unemployment rate

Job growth accelerated in May, and the unemployment rate fell to an 18-year low of 3.8 percent. (Video: Reuters)

The May jobs report released Friday morning showed continued good news for the U.S. economy, as followers of President Trump’s Twitter feed might have expected. Since the most recent recession began, unemployment rates have fallen steadily across demographic groups.

The overall unemployment rate hit 3.8 percent, the lowest it has been since April 2000. Since 1955, after a postwar period of below-3-percent unemployment, the rate has been lower than it is now — 3.8 percent — in 27 months. Before 2000, the most recent time the unemployment rate was so low was in 1970.

But another metric hit a historic number. The unemployment rate among black Americans is now at 5.9 percent, the lowest it has ever been recorded.

There are two caveats to that data point. The first is that the government began tracking the figure in 1972. The second is that the metric is volatile. Between December 2017 and January, it jumped nearly a percentage point. That complicated Trump’s frequent use of the figure to demonstrate how he has delivered for black voters during his State of the Union address. The number recovered in February.

Perhaps as important, the black unemployment rate has never been closer to the white unemployment rate. The improvement in unemployment that’s been seen since the end of the recession is one thing, but black unemployment has consistently been at least 66 percent higher than the white unemployment rate. As of May, it was 69 percent higher, the lowest since the depth of the recession.

That’s an important date to note. Usually when black unemployment draws closer to white unemployment, it’s a function of spiking white unemployment rates. (That’s what happened in 1975, too.) That’s not the case now.

As of May, the black unemployment rate is 2.4 points higher than the white unemployment rate, the first time it has ever been less than 3 points higher.

How much of this is a function of Trump’s leadership is unclear, as is the effort to determine the relationship between any president and major economic indicators. Since he has been president, the overall unemployment rate has fallen one point, and the black unemployment rate has fallen nearly two points.

The subtlety of the relationship between a president’s actions and improving economic conditions may, we suspect, be lost in Trump’s rhetoric about this historic new low.