“African American unemployment has recently achieved the lowest rate ever recorded,” Trump said. He then recalled the slogan that he coined in an effort to appeal to black voters in 2016.
“What do you have to lose!” he said, suddenly pointing at a row of people in the audience. “What do you have to lose, remember?”
“Remember I said, what do you have to lose? People said, ‘Oh, that’s not nice.’ I said, Hey. I go through a chart. It talked about the highest crime rates, the worst education, the worst homeownership, I’d go through — and I just woke up one night, I said, you’ve always been with the Democrats. Vote for me. What the hell do you have to lose?”
The most immediate thing worth noting about Trump’s presentation of his success as president is that the unemployment rate for black Americans is not currently at a low but, as he said, hit a record low of 5.9 percent in May. That’s after years of decline, predating Trump’s time in office, and goes back only to the early 1970s, when data for black Americans was first broken out by the government.
But it’s worth spending more time considering his description of the black Americans who had nothing to lose by electing him. He saw a chart, he said, indicating that black Americans had “the highest crime rates, the worst education, the worst homeownership.” That inspired him to make his broad pitch to black Americans that he could turn things around — or at least not make them worse. On the campaign trail, he often used a shorthand to describe the living conditions of black Americans: He would fix the “inner cities.”
As we noted when he first delivered his slogan, his assumptions about black America are off the mark. While the poverty rate is higher among blacks than whites, only about one in five black families are below the poverty level. (That’s more than twice the rate of white Americans.) There are racial gaps in education in the United States, but those often correlate to poverty, and that poverty is often derived from or exacerbated by long-standing racial issues in government and the private sector.
Take homeownership. Black homeownership rates are stuck at 30-year-lows in part because of poverty and in part, a recent report revealed, because of lingering racial disparities. An analysis of mortgage applications from various racial and ethnic groups found that, even between people with otherwise similar financial histories, blacks in many places were much more likely to be rejected for a home loan than whites.
Historically, housing in American cities has been driven in part by racial considerations. It was common for decades for certain parts of cities to be identified as too risky for home loans, places that largely overlapped with minority populations. Those places were “redlined.” Earlier this year, The Post reported that those delineations had a lasting effect.
“[R]edlined neighborhoods in the South and the West are more likely today to be home to a largely minority population,” Tracy Jan reported. “Neighborhoods in the South and Midwest display the most persistent economic inequality.” Homeownership builds wealth — and decades of hurdles preventing homeownership exacerbated poverty.
Earlier this month, a group of researchers released a study analyzing one aspect of Americans' perceptions of black life. Study participants were asked to assign a value from 1 to 7 indicating how low- or high-class a series of people or houses were perceived to be. Participants assigned about the same class values to black and white people in the study, but perceived “both the lower-class and middle-class houses in a Black (vs. White) neighborhood [as] lower class, less favorable overall, and lead people to report a depressed willingness to live there or act as a realtor selling the home.”
Whites, the authors write, “describe Black space as impoverished and undesirable, but describe White space as affluent and desirable.” The study notes 2016 research from one of the study authors, describing black “space-focused stereotypes, which include: impoverished, crime-ridden, ghetto, rundown, urban, dangerous, dirty, overpopulated, low-income housing, and failing schools.”
Most black Americans don’t live in poverty or in the “inner city.” There are endemic problems in the black community, problems entwined with the overlapping issues of poverty and racism. Trump’s citation of black unemployment as proof he has delivered for black Americans, much less addressed the issues with education and housing he discussed, is off the mark.
A year ago, The Post’s fact-checking team evaluated how Trump was doing on his “what do you have to lose” metric, specifically formulated by the president as his administration having done “far more than anybody’s done with respect to the inner cities.”