There was a stubborn bit of data buried in the August jobs report released on Friday: The unemployment rate for blacks (11.4 percent) was more than twice that for whites (5.3 percent). We call this stubborn for one simple reason: In the 42-year period during which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has separated out unemployment data into different races, black unemployment has always been higher than white unemployment.
In fact, it has always been at least two-thirds higher. Five years ago last month, the rate of unemployment for black Americans was only 66 percent higher than that for whites, thanks to the rocketing overall unemployment rate due to the recession. That was the smallest difference in 42 years. The largest difference was in February 1989, when the unemployment rate for blacks was almost three times that of whites -- 11.9 percent to 4.3 percent.
One last point on this: Since January 1972, the black unemployment rate has been 115 percent more than the white unemployment rate -- as it was in August -- in 279 of 512 months. That's more than half the time.
That ratio varies by state. The BLS offers annual averages for the unemployment rate by race and state from 1999 to 2013. A number of states have such small black populations that the comparison is doesn't shed much light (Vermont, South Dakota, Utah, etc.). For the rest, we went back and calculated the gap between the two races.
That's admittedly messy, so we broke it out by Census bureau region, averaging the states for which we had data. (The map below this graph shows the states in each region.)
Even within the states we used, there were some high margins of error -- like in Alaska and West Virginia. In states with substantial black populations, there has been only one year in one state in which the unemployment rate for blacks was lower than that for whites: 2007 in Massachusetts. That year, the average unemployment rate for blacks in the state was 4.3 percent. For whites, it was 4.7.
Over the 10-year period between 2004 and 2013, Massachusetts had one of the lowest ratios of black to white unemployment. On average, the unemployment rate for blacks was 66 percent higher than that for whites.
Note: While we use the term "black" in this article, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has since 2003 tracked "black and African-American" unemployment numbers. If you're curious, Gallup explored the difference a few years ago.