Low­est black job­less rate in his­tory; but broader gains lag

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY ERRIN HAINES WHACK Associated Press

Philadel­phia — It’s one of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s fa­vorite talk­ing points in pro­mot­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s suc­cess: the na­tion’s record low rate of black unem­ploy­ment.

For some on a re­cent sunny af­ter­noon in Ver­non Park in Philadel­phia’s Ger­man­town neigh­bor­hood, that vic­tory seemed hol­low.

As chil­dren laughed on the play­ground, sev­eral black men — some out of work, oth­ers home­less — sat or slept on benches nearby. Sim­i­lar scenes play out across Amer­ica and are backed by data that run counter to the pos­i­tive pic­ture Trump of­ten paints in cam­paign ral­lies. When asked what he makes of Trump’s claim that black Amer­i­cans are far­ing bet­ter un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­struc­tion com­pany owner and Ger­man­town res­i­dent Carl­ton Washington replied, “Where at? Cal­abasas?”

It was a ref­er­ence to the home base of con­tro­ver­sial rap­per Kanye West, who had lunch with Trump at the White House on Thurs­day af­ter­noon. The two dis­cussed crime in Chicago, more pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial par­dons, job cre­ation and the black

unem­ploy­ment rate.

The unem­ploy­ment rate for black Amer­i­cans has fallen from a high of 21.2 per­cent in Jan­uary 1983 to 6 per­cent in Septem­ber, ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics. Still, that’s nearly dou­ble over­all na­tional unem­ploy­ment rate of 3.7 per­cent.

In Michi­gan, the unem­ploy­ment rate for blacks was 9.5 per­cent at the end of 2017, the most re­cent data avail­able from the bureau. Michi­gan’s over­all un­ad­justed rate in Au­gust was 3.8 per­cent in Au­gust, the most re­cent stats avail­able from the Michi­gan De­part­ment of Tech­nol­ogy, Man­age­ment and Bud­get.

The unem­ploy­ment rates be­lie the on-the-ground re­al­ity for many African-Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially in De­troit, home to the big­gest black ma­jor­ity of any ma­jor U.S. city.

“The rates are im­prov­ing. There’s a ques­tion of whether his poli­cies cre­ated that im­prove­ment,” said An­dre Perry of the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, whose re­search fo­cuses on black com­mu­ni­ties. “My ques­tion is: What kind of jobs are peo­ple work­ing in?”

While black em­ploy­ment has im­proved, it has not yet trans­lated into broader eco­nomic gains.

That’s partly be­cause AfricanAmer­i­cans dis­pro­por­tion­ately toil in lower-qual­ity jobs. Black peo­ple make up roughly one-fifth of those work­ing in tem­po­rary jobs, a fig­ure that hasn’t changed sig­nif­i­cantly in the past five years, even as the econ­omy has im­proved. Just 12 per­cent of all Amer­i­cans, but more than 80 per­cent of Detroi­ters, are black.

Last year, Trump’s first in of­fice, the in­come gap be­tween whites and blacks widened slightly. The typ­i­cal AfricanAmer­i­can house­hold earned $40,258, down 0.2 per­cent from a year ear­lier, while white house­holds saw an in­come gain of 2.6

per­cent, to $68,145.

There were signs of gains in De­troit, how­ever, where me­dian in­comes rose to $30,344, mark­ing two straight years of in­come in­creases.

Na­tion­ally, the racial wealth gap has wors­ened even as unem­ploy­ment rates have come down. The me­dian net worth of a white house­hold was 10 times that of a black house­hold in 2016, the lat­est data avail­able. That’s up from seven times in 2004.

Perry noted that the na­tional unem­ploy­ment rate doesn’t take into ac­count un­der­per­form­ing geo­graphic re­gions or de­mo­graphic groups.

“What does full em­ploy­ment mean to a black man in Bal­ti­more? To youth in Chicago?” Perry said. “What are you do­ing to bring op­por­tu­ni­ties to black neigh­bor­hoods, to cre­ate wealth? I don’t see those signs of the econ­omy.”

Philadel­phia City Coun­cil­woman Cindy Bass, whose dis­trict in­cludes Ger­man­town, re­mem­bers

shop­ping with her fam­ily as a child along the neigh­bor­hood’s then-main eco­nomic cor­ri­dor, where res­i­dents could buy food, get their hair done and find a pair of sneak­ers or a new out­fit all within a few blocks dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s.

The area is much dif­fer­ent to­day, with less ac­tiv­ity and fewer busi­nesses and the jobs that came with them.

“I don’t know what he’s claim­ing credit for,” said Bass, look­ing to­ward Ger­man­town and Chel­ten av­enues. “His num­bers are fake news, as far as I’m con­cerned.”

Bass said Trump’s con­tin­ued as­ser­tion that black Amer­ica is re­cov­er­ing is an in­sult.

“Peo­ple are strug­gling, and to not give any sort of recog­ni­tion of that, and to say that ev­ery­thing’s OK, ev­ery­body’s work­ing, ev­ery­body’s do­ing well, is just not true. When you look at our com­mu­ni­ties, you see some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent. When was the last time he’s been to any neigh­bor­hood

that is even sim­i­lar to a Ger­man­town?”

In Ger­man­town, a neigh­bor­hood that is 80 per­cent black, the me­dian in­come is $28,046, less than half the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the cen­sus. The poverty rate is 34 per­cent, nearly three times the na­tional rate of 12.7 per­cent. More than 20 per­cent of res­i­dents make less than $10,000, and 60 per­cent of fam­i­lies live on less than $50,000.

That num­ber ob­scures those who have dropped out of the la­bor mar­ket, who are do­ing cashonly jobs or who have gone un­der­ground. Carl­ton Washington sees many of them in his busi­ness and teen men­tor­ing pro­gram.

The 36-year-old life­long Philadel­phian learned con­struc­tion from his men­tor and tries to help those he can. In ad­di­tion to his reg­u­lar crew of about 10 work­ers, he has a list of about 50 unemployed or un­der­em­ployed men who could help out at job sites.

“If they’re not avail­able, I just go through­out the neigh­bor­hood and try to find guys to put a lit­tle money in their pocket for the day,” Washington said, adding that a day’s work might earn $50 to $60 for tasks rang­ing from de­mo­li­tion to more skilled la­bor like elec­tri­cal work, plumb­ing or car­pen­try.

“It’s not much. By the time you drive to the job site and get back, that’s prob­a­bly spent on a cou­ple of gro­ceries for din­ner that night and gas,” Washington said.

Washington said he would like to see Trump visit a neigh­bor­hood like his the next time he holds a rally in a state with a ma­jor city, to see what he sees on the ground, ev­ery day.

“Sit­ting in this park, we’re talk­ing about the mid­dle of the day, and about 20 peo­ple are sit­ting here unemployed, drink­ing, drown­ing their mis­ery,” Washington said. “He’s not com­ing to these ar­eas, so to even speak on the black unem­ploy­ment rate. It’s al­most like an NFL player speak­ing on some­thing go­ing on in base­ball. You don’t play base­ball.”

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