Sure Black unemployment is at a record low, but…
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 1/24/2018, 10:39 a.m.
The unemployment rate for African American workers has never been lower. Still, at 6.8 percent, Black unemployment remains well above the rate for white people, which is at 3.7 percent. That disparity is deeply rooted and a continuing cause of concern for economists and advocates, reports CNN Money. For example, in Columbia, Mo., the city has long had one of the lowest overall unemployment rates in the country. It's now down to 2.5 percent, but Black unemployment is far higher. In 2016, the last year for which such Census Bureau data is available, African American unemployment locally stood at 8 percent. Mike Matthes, the city manager in Columbia, is acutely aware of the problem. African Americans make up 10 percent of Columbia's population. “We create the jobs, but never worry about how to get them to the people who need them the most,” Matthes said. To try to narrow the gap, Columbia has worked to connect unemployed individuals with jobs. The city sends cops out on the beat with an app on their phones that can put struggling families into an employer database. Matthes has asked employers expanding in the area, like Aurora Organic Dairy, to make sure its new workforce fits the diversity of the city. “They didn't blink an eye,” Matthes said. An Aurora spokeswoman says the company “will plan to do our best to hire qualified employees who mirror the Columbia community, which would include both gender and racial diversity.” Columbia's projects reflect the larger challenge of making sure people of color, who suffered disproportionately through the Great Recession, share equally in an economy that appears to be picking up steam. The racial unemployment gap is an enduring feature of the American labor market, with African Americans averaging about twice the rate of white people. The gap was worst during the late 1980s and has since improved slightly on average, but the white unemployment rate is still only 54 percent of the Black rate. (The average is 4.1 percent.) Scholars attribute the disparity to a combination of factors: Hiring discrimination, lower educational attainment and a higher rate of people with criminal records, who are barred from many occupations. There has been improvement over the years. In 1990, only 11.3 percent of African Americans had four-year college degrees, compared to 22 percent for whites, according to Census data. In 2017, those numbers had risen to 24 percent and 34.5 percent. Still, the racial unemployment gap hasn't receded much. One reason, experts say, is that white and Black job applicants are still treated differently. Many studies, which typically test employer reactions to similar resumes with white and Black-sounding names, have documented this disparity. A 2017 meta-analysis of the studies found that unequal treatment has remained consistent for the past 25 years.