Trump boasted he had the 'best Black unemployment numbers' in history, but Black unemployment is nearly double the overall jobless rate

  • President Donald Trump concluded his remarks on Thursday's debate by lauding how "we had the best Black unemployment numbers in the history of our country" during his presidency.
  • Although Black unemployment hit a historic low last fall, Black Americans marked higher rates than the rest of Americans in all of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' alternative measures of labor under-utilization, which provides several indicators for larger context on the labor market.
  • This year Black unemployment has skyrocketed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and Black Americans are suffering from high unemployment rates that have "showed little change."
  • At the same time, the gap between white unemployment and Black unemployment has grown  throughout the pandemic.
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President Donald Trump boasted he had the "best Black unemployment numbers" during Thursday's final presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden.

"We had the best Black unemployment numbers in the history of our country. Hispanic, women, Asian, people with diplomas, with no diplomas, MIT graduates, number one in the class, everybody had the best numbers," he said in his final remarks. 

It's true that last October, Black American unemployment hit a low of 5.4%, surpassing the previous low of 5.5% set in August that year. 

But those numbers don't tell the whole story.

Black unemployment at its lowest was still 1.7 times that of white unemployment (3.2%) in the same time period.

And as the Associated Press noted last year, people are only counted among the unemployment rolls when they are still actively looking for work. The unemployment rate declines were primarily a consequence of fewer unemployed Black Americans seeking work and permanently dropping out of the job market.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses alternative labor under-utilization measures, which provide several additional indicators to capture a better picture of the labor market. The indicators include some that are more restrictive than the general unemployment rate, like "U-1" which counts for unemployed people who were unemployed 15 weeks or longer. It also includes more wide-encompassing indicators such as "U-6" which includes people who are employed but are able to work fewer hours than they seek. A BLS report found that Black Americans marked higher rates than the overall population in all alternative measures of labor underutilization in 2019.

The historically low unemployment rate among Black Americans was also short-lived. Even before the pandemic, the unemployment rate for Black Americans spiked again to 5.9% in December of last year and hit 6% in January of 2020.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Black American unemployment rate skyrocketed to over 16% in April. Less than half of all Black Americans in the labor force were employed. 

Despite Trump's claims in August that the American economy saw "best employment numbers for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans," the BLS's monthly jobs report for July said Black unemployment "showed little change" with a less than 1% decrease between June and July.

Last month's BLS report said the jobless rates for the Black and Hispanic population "showed little change" with a 13% to 12.1% and 10.5% to 10.3% decline from August to September, respectively.

Additionally, increasing racial disparities in the workforce widened the gap between white unemployment and Black unemployment grew throughout the pandemic. Last month, the unemployment rate for Black Americans (12.1%) was roughly 1.7 times that of the white population (7%), according to the BLS. 

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