It's a convention. So people will say things on stage. They will make big sweeping claims that sometimes reach into the realm of the less than accurate. But sometimes there are convention moments that really amount to fictional hyperbole.
The Rev. Darrell Scott, a black pastor involved in still unclear ways in that aborted April summit between black pastors and Trump in New York, stood on the convention stage Wednesday night and entered that third category.
During a section of his address Scott rattled off a list of things that he said grew worse during the Obama years. He gave voice to a much-repeated claim over the course of this convention, that Obama failed to heal racial tensions and in fact made them worse. And, a new Monmouth University poll out this week certainly indicates that most Republicans and white Americans agree with Scott on both points. But then Scott made the mistake to turning his attention to something that is not a matter of measured public sentiment but hard, documentable fact. Scott claimed that during the Obama years, black unemployment was elevated.
A very literal and limited read of unemployment data does show that during the nearly eight years that Obama has been in office, yes, black unemployment has been higher than white at all times. Here's what Scott didn't say that makes that claim about black unemployment in the Obama years more than a little problematic. For more than 50 years — yes, every single year — black unemployment has been two times or more higher than white unemployment.
In fact, over the last half century, the points at which black unemployment has reached its lowest levels, those figures were still higher than the highest white unemployment rates at those same points in time. Got that? The best of times for black America are even worse than the worst of times for white America.
And, in addition to the information about unemployment by race and ethnicity in the charts above (which include Obama's tenure) here's a look at overall unemployment between 2009 and 2016.
Sorry, Rev. Scott, but what was said onstage, is not true.
Now, a brief interlude is necessary here to remind anyone who views this information as an affirmation that black Americans are lacking in work ethic and therefore, more likely to be unemployed. (That, is also, apparently, something lots of white Americans, particularly Trump supporters, believe, according to a May-June Reuters poll of 16,000 Americans.)
Unemployment is a measure of those actively seeking work but unable to find it in the preceding four weeks. So, unemployment disparities not only can't be explained by the presence of Obama in the Oval Office. They can't be explained with stereotypes about alleged black shiftlessness.
Yes, black workers, as a group are younger and less educated than white workers, as a group. But those gaps have narrowed considerably over the years yet, the size of the gap between black and white unemployment, largely, has not. Most economists believe that that fact is one of the clearest indications that racial discrimination deeply influences the American labor market.
Now, back to Obama and black unemployment.
Scott's economic expertise is unclear. He, like some of the other pastors who have appeared on the convention stage, is a proponent of the so-called "prosperity gospel," which claims, in essence, that those in God's favor will enjoy material riches on earth. It's a most interesting set of ideas, particularly for the descendants of slaves. But it's also fairly easy to understand why adherents might be drawn to the Trump movement.
Of course, people are free to believe what the will. And Scott, a man who has previously supported Democrats, has demonstrated this much of the year. Scott followed Trump to certain stops on the campaign trail to offer prayer at rallies sometimes saturated in racial tension. And, of course, Scott made the rounds on conservative media outlets to support the Trump campaign and testify to Trump's race-neutral concern for Americans. On Wednesday, before addressing the convention, Scott seemed to hint, however, that the employment patterns he spotted at the GOP's grand gathering were not in keeping with his beliefs.
Black people r at RNC in service positions, and noone has a problem. it's ok to work FOR them, but not walk WITH them or be equal TO them!
— Dr.Darrell Scott (@PastorDScott) July 20, 2016
The concentration of non-white workers in lower-paying, less specialized jobs and fields also ranks among the reasons most economists point to for the more frequent and longer-running stretches of unemployment experienced by black workers. These workers are far more likely to be temporary, to do jobs in which they are viewed as expendable and in whom little investment or training is generally made.
But again, this phenomenon has been with the country longer than the American flag. And, as education gaps have narrowed, this pattern has not. So, it's pretty hard to pin, even this, in any factual way on Obama.
NOTE: This post has been updated to include Scott's tweet and related information.