President Trump has faced charges of racism since before he won the presidential election. And there has been one response from him and White House aides that has been more consistent than others: They point to low unemployment numbers for black Americans.
In January, when hip-hop artist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter talked to CNN’s Van Jones about Trump’s disrespect of black people after he allegedly made derogatory comments about African and Caribbean nations, the president pointed to the black unemployment rate.
In June, Donald Trump Jr., a senior adviser on his father’s reelection campaign, boasted about the numbers while making a jab at Democrats, the party that receives the overwhelming majority of black votes.
Most recently, television host Bill Mitchell pointed to low unemployment among black Americans as “evidence” that the president is no racist.
White House officials found themselves on the receiving end of much criticism Tuesday when press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pointed to low black unemployment numbers while defending Trump against accusations of racism recently made by former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman.
The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein reported:
At a news conference Tuesday, Sanders said Obama created 195,000 jobs for African Americans during his eight years in office.
"When President Obama left after eight years in office — eight years in office — he had only created 195,000 jobs for African Americans,” Sanders told reporters. “President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years."
Sanders’s statement was false. According to official statistics, black employment in the United States increased by nearly 3 million jobs from January 2009 through January 2017. From January 2017 through July of this year, black employment has increased by about 700,000 jobs.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers later took responsibility for the mistake and published new data before Sanders tweeted a correction — a rarity for this administration — herself.
But even after the White House corrected the inaccuracies, Trump supporter and Fox News host Jesse Watters continued to spread the false information with his viewers, who overwhelmingly view the president favorably.
One thing that the White House, Fox News and other Trump supporters appear to be missing is that in crediting Trump for low black unemployment numbers, they regularly fail to acknowledge that the decline in black unemployment actually began during the Obama administration. And the president and his staff also have yet to share what he has done specifically to continue that decline and to address the nuances of these numbers.
And as Vox’s P.R. Lockhart wrote in June:
More importantly, black unemployment is still higher than white unemployment, and higher than the unemployment rates of other racial groups. And while this month’s numbers mean that the unemployment gap between blacks and whites has narrowed to the lowest point since it began being measured, the difference suggests that there’s still a lot more to be done.
But perhaps most importantly, what the Trump White House doesn’t seem to understand is that helping to provide jobs for black people does not free someone from accusations of racism. In other words, it is possible for Trump to be president while the black unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since the 1970s (the decade when he was sued by the federal government for racial discrimination) and still be a racist.
While jobs and the economy are high priorities for black voters, they are not the only priorities. Black critics of this administration have repeatedly protested its words and actions related to race on police brutality, education, national security, immigration, international affairs and other issues. Responding by pointing to a low black unemployment rate doesn’t provide answers to those questions. It is actually more likely to remind black Americans that the issues they want to discuss most are being ignored.