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Black American Unemployment Rate Continues Above 9%

While unemployment on a national basis dropped to 5.1% as the economy added 173,000 jobs, among the groups that continue to have a high unemployment rate is black Americans, where the rate has lingered around 9% for many months.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports:

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for whites declined to 4.4 percent in August. The rates for adult men (4.7 percent), adult women (4.7 percent), teenagers (16.9 percent), blacks (9.5 percent), Asians (3.5 percent), and Hispanics (6.6 percent) showed little change in August.

The unemployment rate among black Americans was 9.1% in July, 9.5% in June and 10.2% in May. That keeps it more than twice the rate for white Americans.

There are several theories about why the figure is so high. Among the most common, and most dismissive, is that the trend has persisted for many years. According to the Washington Post:

There was a stubborn bit of data buried in the August jobs report released on Friday: The unemployment rate for blacks (11.4 percent) was more than twice that for whites (5.3 percent). We call this stubborn for one simple reason: In the 42-year period during which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has separated out unemployment data into different races, black unemployment has always been higher than white unemployment.

According to the editors at The Atlantic, another reason:

[W]hen black Americans lose their jobs, they stick to their job search for longer than white Americans, inflating the black unemployment rate relative to white’s.

Another, put forward by editors at Al Jazeera America:

Social scientists, economists and other experts cite a variety of reasons for the high unemployment rate among black males: lack of training, loss of public-sector jobs, high incarceration rates (at least five times that of white men), unequal access to social networks and outright discrimination. When coupled with the fact that the recession hit all men particularly hard (men lost 2.6 jobs to every 1 by a woman, in large part because of a decline in manufacturing and construction), a clearer picture of the tenuous relationship black men have with today’s labor market starts to emerge.

Looking across this set of analyses, one thing stands out. There is no unanimity about causes, which means, incidentally, there is no common path to a solution.

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By Douglas A. McIntyre