Andre Perry is a scholar at the Brookings Institution. (Courtesy of Brookings Institution)
Andre Perry is a scholar at the Brookings Institution. (Courtesy of Brookings Institution)

Since announcing his presidential aspirations and candidacy in 2016, Donald Trump has often alluded to his support for the securement of the hopes and dreams of and a better quality of life for America’s Black citizens.

To illustrate his efforts, he routinely cites Black employment statistics, pointing to a previously-shared tweet to rapper/entrepreneur Jay-Z (Jan. 28, 2018) as evidence.

“Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED,” the Trump tweet said.

However, Andre Perry, a David M. Rubinstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in northwest D.C., describes Trump’s claims as misleading, steering needed conversation about employment in the wrong direction. In his recently-released study, “Black Workers are Being Left Behind by Full Employment,” Perry asserts that while American unemployment has reached impressive lows, Blacks continue to face much higher levels of joblessness, especially in predominantly Black cities.

“The unemployment rate is 15.8 percent in Newark, is an alarming 17.4 percent in Detroit and in Flint, more than a quarter of the population is unemployed,” Perry said. “If these numbers referred to the white unemployment rate, our leaders would be doing everything possible to improve it. But these rates represent Black unemployment and no one is sounding the alarm.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reports the July unemployment rate overall at 3.7 percent – for African Americans the reported rate nearly doubled at six percent. And Trump has touted the good news, claiming the credit shortly after taking office in January 2017 when, as he reminds the nation, Black unemployment then stood at 7.7 percent.

Perry, however, advises caution in celebrating prematurely.

“The stability of the national unemployment rate shouldn’t lull us into a false sense of economic security,” he said. “The same metric forecasts a much different outlook for Black people.”

He notes that the national employment rate does not account for differences among racial groups, geographic areas or other specific characteristics which collectively paint a much different picture of the economy than the president reports. Further, he adds that despite the U.S. economy growing closer to full
employment – that is, when job opportunities exceed the number of available workers – Blacks now face unemployment levels akin to those reported during the Great Recession (Dec. 2007 – June 2009, according to economists).

During that time, millions of Americans lost jobs and homes as unemployment rose to 10 percent. Even after the downfall officially ended, years of concentrated economic policy and politically astute actions would be required to reverse the negative impact — an objective accomplished under President Obama during his tenure. Still, Perry, like other Black scholars, says Black America has never recovered from the period’s economic crisis.

“For many Black Americans, the unemployment rate is significantly higher now than during the recession,” he said. “The national unemployment rate is the lowest in 50 years but it primarily reflects white employment dynamics. As for Black communities, they’re already in a recession.”

Perry centered his research on Black majority cities such as Baltimore, Memphis and smaller municipalities including Wilkinsburg, Pa., and Ferguson. He says that Black majority cities considered to be thriving, such as Atlanta and New Orleans, still have Black unemployment rates which are higher than whites.

“Black residents of Atlanta and New Orleans, have rates of 11.5 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively — more than five times greater than white unemployment rates of 2.5 percent and 2.3 percent,” he said. “In Macon-Bibb County, Ga., the Black unemployment rate is 11.5 percent – quadruple the white rate of 2.7 percent.”

In the District, D.C. Department of Employment Services statistics reveal that 5.7 percent of all African Americans are jobless compared to a white unemployment rate of 1.5 percent – a disparity that Perry says extends throughout the country.

“We see this unemployment gap replicated in cities of all sizes across the U.S.,” he said. “African Americans need job programs and job opportunities to close the Black-White gap; politicians and policymakers need to be serious about that. Black unemployment can no longer be considered an afterthought of full employment.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for white Americans to be in a recession before making the economy work for everyone,” Perry added.

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James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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