Employment Opportunities Are Deteriorating for Black Men

A decade after the U.S. began to dig out of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the country’s jobless rate is hovering at its lowest level in nearly a half century.

Despite lingering issues, including a decade of anemic wage growth and a vast majority of households that survive paycheck-to-paycheck, most Americans are finding jobs at a pace unseen in decades.

President Donald Trump has taken undue credit for this trend that began in President Barack Obama’s first term in office when Democrats held congressional majorities in both houses of Congress and maintained a Senate majority until 2015.

To counter accusations of racism, Trump has also repeatedly taken credit for the historically low jobless rate of Black Americans. By shamelessly taking credit for employment trends that preceded him, Trump is claiming that conservatives are succeeding in ways that liberals have failed. Like other modern Republicans have done over the years, Trump asserts that tax breaks for the wealthy, industry deregulation, and deep cuts to social spending programs somehow translate into economic prosperity for Black Americans, and the poor in general.

However, recent government data suggests a decade of employment gains might be starting to falter, at least for Black men whose job prospects are deteriorating at the same time economists are concerned the U.S. economy is losing steam and could tip into recession as early as next year. Recessions harm all American workers, but they inflict disproportionate economic harm to minority households.

The average monthly unemployment rate for Black men in the first half of the year is stuck at 7.3 percent compared to the same period in 2018, according to official data from the Department of Labor. Meanwhile, the monthly average unemployment rate has fallen to 3.8 percent in the first half of the year, from 4 percent in the first half of last year.

Black men are often the first group to lose job opportunities when the economy slows, in part because they are over-represented in industries typically affected by sluggish economic growth.

These industries include manufacturing – a broad category that includes everything from food processing to auto factories and other types of manual production – and transportation services, especially trucking. Lower educational attainment, higher incarceration rates, and racial discrimination also play significant roles in why Black men typically have the highest jobless rates among all major racial and ethnic categories.

Every other major ethnic or racial and gender group are still experiencing declines in unemployment. For Black women, the average monthly unemployment rate in the first half of the year dropped to 5.9 percent from 6.2 percent in the same period last year. In the same comparison, the jobless rate for white men dropped to 3.3 from 3.6 percent.

“It's definitely an anomaly,” Valerie Wilson, the director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy, told The North Star. “It's unusual that you would find one group that is moving in the opposite direction.”

Indeed, while the jobless rate for African Americans tends to be roughly twice that of whites, unemployment rates for different groups typically move in the same direction. The trend in unemployment among Black men might be a statistical quirk, but some are saying there is enough data to suggest otherwise.

“You're really hard pressed to think what it would be that’s changed over the last year that’s made it easier for white workers to find jobs – and not much has changed for Black women – while Black men are having a greater difficulty in finding jobs,” Dean Baker, a senior economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., told The North Star.

Baker suggests one possibility: Racist employers have become emboldened to discriminate against Black men under a president who has deployed rhetoric that implies white men are being left behind. If you’re a white employer who believes white men have become social pariahs, you would be more inclined to discriminate in favor of white job-seekers.

Baker also says that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may be failing in its mission to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Under Trump, the EEOC had been controlled by an acting chair until Janet Dhillon was approved by the Senate in May. This development and other staffing issues at the EEOC may have caused racially motivated hiring discrimination to go unchecked, Baker added.

“The decline in EEOC enforcement personnel is symbolic of a greater decline in concern about discrimination more generally,” Baker said. “So my guess is if you have some racist employer who decides he doesn’t want to hire a Black guy, he thinks he doesn't have to worry because he probably doesn’t.”

Anyone who isn’t a MAGA-hat-wearing partisan is well aware that Trump is taking undeserved credit as Black America’s employer-in-chief. The Black unemployment rate hit 16.8 percent in March 2010--the highest rate in 26 years--because of the Great Recession that began under President George W. Bush and a Republican-led Congress. By the time Trump was inaugurated in January 2017, the rate had fallen by more than half, to 7.7 percent, the lowest rate in nearly two decades.

Now, after 105 consecutive months of employment gains, job opportunities for Black men appear to be faltering. If this trend continues, and spreads to other minority groups, we will see that “trickle down” economic policies aren’t as beneficial to minorities and the poor as Republicans claim.

About the Author

Angelo Young is a NYC-based reporter, editor, and writing coach who enjoys pondering world events and idle chatter on the subway. He has more than a decade of news editing experience with bylines in Newsweek, International Business Times, Salon, Arab News, The Daily Star (of Lebanon), Mexico Business magazine, The News (of Mexico City) and The Oklahoma Daily.