Trump is using that in a campaign pitch, too. It is pretty unlikely he could win anything close to a majority of African Americans, but his campaign is attempting to put a dent in the Democratic Party’s popularity with black voters by pointing to the consistently low unemployment rate during this presidency.
“Last time it was, ‘What the hell do you have to lose?’ ” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told The Washington Post in February. “Now you show them what they’ve gained from President Trump and what more they can gain if they get four more years of President Trump.”
But the latest unemployment numbers could make it much more difficult for Trump to effectively argue that he has been one of the greatest presidents for black Americans — particularly when it comes to the economy.
The jobs numbers released Friday revealed that the United States is facing the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression — and black people are being impacted disproportionately.
The black unemployment rate is 16.7 percent — two points higher than the overall unemployment rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And according to a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, 16 percent of black Americans report being laid off or furloughed since the outbreak began in the United States. The number is 11 percent for white Americans.
While Trump is not responsible for the coronavirus outbreak, many of his critics are holding him responsible for his administration’s response to it. Medical experts have claimed that if the White House had responded earlier to news about the virus, America’s death rate would have been lower and the economy would not have been so negatively affected.
Presiding over a weak economy could throw a wrench into Trump’s overall campaign strategy as it leaves him with very little to go on with black voters. More than half of black Americans rated the national economy negatively in January. And black Americans have been critical of Trump’s handling of immigration issues, matters involving tension between black Americans and police, and his response to matters of racism in the country.
The role of black voters in November’s election could determine Trump’s reelection fate. While he did not win a majority of black voters in 2016, a decline in black voter turnout in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin is believed to have played a part in Trump winning those historically Democratic states. His campaign has been trying to fortify what limited support he has among black voters, but if he instead loses black voters in those three states, they could swing back to the Democratic column in November.
Trump often points to the low unemployment rate to push back on the idea that he has an inferior view of black people and that his policies are harmful to them.
When hip-hop artist Jay-Z previously said that Trump was the manifestation of America’s history of allowing racist rhetoric and ideas to go unchecked among powerful white men, the president tweeted about black unemployment numbers.
Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2018
The president seems to believe that it is impossible for him to be racist if he is presiding over an economy where more black people are employed than ever before. But with the economy on its way to being one of the most disastrous in history, Trump’s retort is weakened.
For what it’s worth, it’s not as if his response was incredibly effective as is. Trump’s job approval rating with black Americans is 12 percent, according to Gallup.
Part of that is because the overwhelming majority of black Americans — more than 8 in 10 — believe Trump is racist and that he has made racism a bigger problem in the country, according to a January Washington Post-Ipsos poll.
Many black Americans never gave the president full credit for the country’s historically low black unemployment rate to begin with.
In follow-up interviews to the January poll, many black Americans told The Post that President Barack Obama deserves more credit for improving the unemployment rate for black Americans, which declined from 12.7 percent to 7.5 percent during his two terms.
As of now, many black Americans have an answer to Trump’s infamous question of what did black voters have to lose by backing him: their jobs and a president who would respond early enough to intelligence about a potential pandemic to prevent the decade’s second economic downturn.
In the most recent Post polling, black Americans said they believe things will get worse before they get better. And if that is true in terms of the unemployment rate and other economic issues, the argument that Trump presided over one of the best economies for black people might not be as winsome as he hopes. Because what will also be true is that the president would have been in the White House during one of the worst economies for black Americans.