Is the Black Unemployment Rate Really Dropping?

Is the Black Unemployment Rate Really Dropping?


The Black unemployment rate dropped one full point last month to 13% — the second lowest number for Black unemployment since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.  When President Obama entered the White House in January 2009, Black unemployment was 12.7%.  The highest Black unemployment rate during Obama’s time in office was 16.7% in August 2011.

During the eight years President George W. Bush was President the Black unemployment number never rose above 13%.  The rate reached its highest point of the Bush presidency, 12.1%, in December 2008.

The overall unemployment rate improved in April to 8.1% with 115,000 jobs added according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The unemployment rate was 8.2% in March.

After a big drop in the Black unemployment rate in January — the biggest since March 2009 — Black unemployment appears to moving in the right direction for the first time in months.  In January 2012, the Black unemployment rate was tabulated to be 13.6% by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  It was 15.8% in December of 2011.  In February, 227,000 jobs were added to the U.S. economy yet the Black unemployment rate rose to 14.1% from 13.6%.

Though the unemployment rate for Black Americans has been roughly double the number for Whites since 1972, Black unemployment reached a particularly high spike in 2011.  The unemployment rate reached a stratospheric 27 year high in August 2011 at 16.7% — easily on of the highest sectors of unemployment in the U.S.   It was the highest rate for Blacks since Ronald Reagan was in office.

The lower rates at which Blacks get in to college coupled with high dropout rates and the fact that Blacks live in places hardest hit by the recession are factors in the continuing spike in unemployment for African Americans.  The Black male high school dropout rate is estimated to be at an incredible 70% in some cities with over 100,000 Black males dropping out of high school a year.  About 1.2 million students dropout of high school each year in the U.S. overall.

When the Black jobless rate improved in January no one could figure out why.  Rep. Allen West (D-FL) said the numbers were suspect at the time.  “If the national average only went down two tenths of a percentage point then how could — all of these 240,000 new jobs must have come from in the Black community…” West said at the time.  Could the books have been cooked?  “No way,” said senior CBC member and former Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY). “There are way too many people involved,” he added.

LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Chief Congressional Correspondent, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus.  She is heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 in Milwaukee on Earl Ingram’s show The Evening Rush as well as on WPFW every Friday at 6:30 p.m. in Washington DC. You can e-mail her at follow her on twitter at @crewof42.


  1. […] But in recent months the Black unemployment numbers have been improving after hitting a stratospheric 27 year high in August of 2011.  Black unemployment has been roughly double that of the rest of the American population for the last 50 years. It began climbing over 12% after President George W. Bush departed the White House.  For a full overview on the African American employment situation read:… […]

  2. […] Black Jobless Rate at 3 Year Low.  The Black unemployment rate dropped one full point last month to 13% — the second lowest number for Black unemployment since President Barack Obama took office in 2009. When President Obama entered the White House in January 2009, Black unemployment was 12.7%. The highest Black unemployment rate during Obama’s time in office was 16.7% in August 2011. […]

  3. Ms Burke:

    I appreciate your "matter of fact" report above. I really do.

    However, besides your reference to the Black high school drop out rate I do not see any analysis which dares to tie were our community presently stands with the INVESTMENTS of our "Black Community Development Consciousness" over the last 50 years – with the promise that things will be different after getting "favorable people into power" who will drive "Progressive Public Policy".

    If you look around the net on Black blogs – you will see a chorus that drinks from the same cup. It says that the REASON the employment report was weak is because the "Congress" (Republicans in the House) have blocked Obama's "Jobs Program" – a program that proposed $384 billion in spending for up to 2 million jobs. This in the context of a federal government that has run up a $1.2+ Trillion debt for 3 years in a row.

    When will Black people begin to demand a RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT for all that was vested in the LOCAL "Human Resource Development Institutions" (like the schools that you mention) as a necessary first step in MITIGATING this "Under-Deployment" number down to the rate that we NEED IT TO BE in order to obtain ORGANIC GROWTH within our community?

    • I'm doing some light research into unemployment and education in the black community. I was wondering where I could find some good blogs and particularly some great information on this "Investment" and the BCDC you mention above.

  4. Allen West as usual spouts wild conspiracy theories. Black unemployment is dropping because manufacturing is recovering, and black men especially work disproportionately in manufacturing compared to America as a whole. Secondly health care is still hiring/growing and black woman work disproportionately in this field (nurses, CNAs, etc.)

  5. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, In 2010 if you were black and fresh out of College with at least a Bachelors degree, your unemployment rate was 15.4%. It was 6.6% for whites.

    Now yes, if you are a high school dropout,then you don’t have a lot of choices…but if you have a college degree and are black, things don’t go your way either.

  6. I believe that the real unemployment rate for African Americans either rose or stayed the same in April. I make this claim after reviewing the April unemployment data vs the March unemployment data as published on a monthly basis by the U.S. Department of Labor. The model which is used to gauge and report employment and or unemployment data tracks only those that are either registered and receiving unemployment insurance to determine the unemployment rate for the month. When a persons unemployment insurance runs out, and they no longer register with their unemployment office, they are no longer accounted for in the monthly data that determines the unemployment rate

    My review of the data relieved that in March there were 11,365 (millions) black people deemed to not be in the labor force because they were no longer looking for work, meaning for the most part that they stopped registering with the unemployment office for benefits primarily because they exhausted their benefits. In April that number rose to 11,550 (millions) that means that almost 300,000 black folks were no longer being counted so the questions is did enough unemployed black folks find jobs to cause the unemployment rate to drop, or did enough drop from the rolls to cause the rate to drop? I would bet on the latter because there were only 119,000 jobs created in the month of April, and not all of those jobs went to blacks. Time will tell when the experts have time to comb through the data to find out what really happened.