Mi­nor­ity em­ploy­ment num­bers noth­ing to clap for

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION - E-mail es­ther­j­[email protected]­post.com; Twit­ter: @es­ther­j­cepeda. (c) 2019, Washington Post Writ­ers Group. ES­THER CEPEDA Colum­nist

CHICAGO — It is said that the best lies have a grain of truth in them. That’s the ideal way to char­ac­ter­ize Pres­i­dent Trump’s as­ser­tion in the State of the Union ad­dress that “African-Amer­i­can, His­panic-Amer­i­can and Asian-Amer­i­can un­em­ploy­ment have all reached their low­est lev­els ever recorded.” Ummm, sure. But only if you don’t count the fact that the data has stayed about the same for sev­eral years and is now tick­ing up­ward. Black un­em­ploy­ment reached a record low of 5.9 per­cent last May, but it rose to 6.8 per­cent in Jan­uary, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press.

Mean­while, Latino un­em­ploy­ment fell to a record-low 4.4 per­cent, its low­est in Oc­to­ber, and Asian-Amer­i­can un­em­ploy­ment fell to 2.2 per­cent last May. But Latino and Asian-Amer­i­can un­em­ploy­ment have both in­creased in the past few months — at least in part be­cause of the long­est govern­ment shut­down in his­tory.

Nev­er­the­less, one of the most pop­u­lar memes on Repub­li­cans’ Twit­ter and Face­book feeds af­ter Trump’s speech was the lament that, as The Washington Ex­am­iner put it, “Democrats didn’t ap­plaud Trump’s cel­e­bra­tion of record-low mi­nor­ity un­em­ploy­ment.” Cor­rect. But that’s not be­cause of par­ti­san­ship that’s blind even to pos­i­tive changes in the lives of work­ers.

It’s be­cause peo­ple who re­ally, deeply care about His­panic and black un­em­ploy­ment data are very well-versed in the num­bers — and they un­der­stand that those raw per­cent­ages don’t even come close to telling the full story.

For in­stance, the cur­rent AfricanAmer­i­can un­em­ploy­ment rate is still nearly dou­ble the job­less rate for whites, 3.5 per­cent.

And there is also a gap be­tween white and His­panic un­em­ploy­ment rates — and it’s not getting much nar­rower. In Jan­uary 2017, the His­panic job­less rate of 5.8 per­cent was 1.5 per­cent­age points higher than the one for whites. And in Jan­uary 2019, the His­panic rate was 4.9 per­cent, 1.4 points higher than for whites.

Some might ar­gue that those rates are dis­parate be­cause whites rep­re­sent nearly 61 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, com­pared with Lati­nos’ 18 per­cent. But they’d be hard pressed to ex­plain away the fact that the wage gaps be­tween these two groups are so pro­nounced. And these gaps are due to dis­crim­i­na­tion, not ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment level or rel­e­vant work ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­cord­ing to an Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute paper from July 2018.

“At­tain­ing a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion has not closed the av­er­age His­panic-white wage gap,” the paper con­cluded. “In 2016, His­panic women with ... a bach­e­lor’s de­gree or more ed­u­ca­tion ... made 36.4 per­cent less than white men with a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, which is a just slightly nar­rower pay gap than in 1980 (37.7 per­cent) and is es­sen­tially the same as the pay gap be­tween His­panic women and white men with less than a high school ed­u­ca­tion (those who have not ob­tained a high school diploma or equiv­a­lent) in 2016 (36.3 per­cent).”

You can’t even blame im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus for Lati­nos’ poorer foothold on the em­ploy­ment lad­der. The re­port found that Puerto Ri­cans have al­most con­sis­tently had higher un­em­ploy­ment rates than for­eign-born Mex­i­can-Amer­i­cans and Cuban-Amer­i­cans, even though Puerto Ri­cans en­joy U.S. cit­i­zen­ship from birth.

Even pos­i­tive data show­ing that more Lati­nos are earn­ing col­lege de­grees isn’t a good pre­dic­tor that the earn­ings gaps will even­tu­ally close, ac­cord­ing to one of the study’s co-au­thors, Marie T. Mora, pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics at the Univer­sity of Texas Rio Grande Val­ley. This is be­cause so many other eth­nic and racial groups, in­clud­ing low-in­come whites, are also mak­ing gains in col­lege ed­u­ca­tion, she told me.

“In fact, de­pend­ing on the met­ric you’re look­ing at, some gaps have widened,” Mora said.

She added that some places around the coun­try — such as south Texas, where she now lives — have been trend­ing down­ward in the num­ber of Lati­nos age 25-64 who are col­lege grad­u­ates.

And not be­cause of im­mi­gra­tion. The phe­nom­e­non is oc­cur­ring among U.S.born His­pan­ics, many of whom, like their white coun­ter­parts, have be­come dis­il­lu­sioned with the idea of col­lege as an eco­nomic sav­ior and in­stead see it as mil­len­ni­als in­creas­ingly do: a po­ten­tially ru­inous fi­nan­cial al­ba­tross of stu­dent loans that could hang around their necks for a life­time and can­not be dis­charged in bank­ruptcy court.

Un­til blacks and His­pan­ics don’t have to work twice as hard to get only a frac­tion as far as whites, no one should ex­pect a smile and ap­plause for a dis­turb­ing and un­ac­cept­able sta­tus quo.

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