Quantcast

Black unemployment rate falls to lowest in 7 years

Ananya Bhattacharya | 8/7/2015, 7:37 p.m.
Getting a job is easier now for all Americans, including African-Americans.
Black employee Pixabay

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Getting a job is easier now for all Americans, including African-Americans.

Black unemployment fell to 9.1% in July, the lowest since April 2008, according to a Labor Department report released Friday. It's especially encouraging given that unemployment for African-Americans was 11.4% last July.

"Now, you're starting to see a broad recovery which is reaching groups with high unemployment rates like African-Americans and teens," said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the American Center for Progress.

Black Americans have always had a harder time getting work, at least judging by government data. The Labor Department began tracking unemployment for blacks in 1972. Since then, black employment has hovered at nearly double the rate of whites and that hasn't changed much.

Even after the recent gains, black unemployment is still about twice the white unemployment rate of 4.6%.

Most economists acknowledge that black workers face problems that other workers don't, including discrimination and lower achieving schools in poor neighborhoods.

Republican presidential candidate and Ohio governor John Kasich broached the issue in the first GOP debate Thursday night: "Once you have economic growth, it's important we reach out to people who live in the shadows... which includes people in our minority community and people who feel they don't have the chance to move up."

Is it all good news? The unemployment rate declining doesn't just mean that more people found jobs. Some of the decrease can also be attributed to people leaving the workforce because they retire or become so discouraged that they give up.

"The unemployment rate can fall for good reasons -- people find jobs -- or bad reasons like people who couldn't find jobs leave the labor force. Unfortunately, I think [this month] it's more being driven by people leaving the labor market," said Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain.

Labor force participation rate for black men fell from 67.6% in June to 67% in July. That may sound minor, but it's a big move in a single month Chamberlain says.

Still, experts say the trend over the past year is positive.

"What's important is that in the long term, the unemployment rate has been trending downwards," noted Valerie Wilson, an economist who covers race and ethnicity issues at the Economic Policy Institute. As recently as May, black unemployment was over 10%.

"If we can keep the expansion going, the problem [with black employment] becomes less significant as the labor market gets stronger," economist Madowitz says.