Employment Data Show Blacks Losing Ground To Immigrants During The Obama Years

Article author: 
Edwin S. Rubenstein
Article publisher: 
Article date: 
25 February 2014
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

Black Americans overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama in his two presidential elections, but their employment prospects have, if anything, deteriorated during his term of in office. In particular, their position relative to other racial groups has worsened.

Historically, Blacks’ unemployment rates have been multiples of other major racial and ethnic groups. This relationship has not changed one iota during the first five Obama years. In fact, the latest unemployment report (January 2014) shows Black unemployment at 12.1%, or 2.12-times the white rate (5.7 %.) In January 2009 the black/white disparity was 1.79-times...

And unemployment rates for all groups are indeed below the highs reached in the early Obama years. Black unemployment is down the most—4.8 percentage points below the catastrophic 16.9% peak reached in March 2010. By comparison, Whites and Hispanics are now 3.5 and 4.7 percentage points, respectively, below their Obama-Era peaks.

The casual newspaper reader might take this juxtaposition as a sign that Blacks are gaining jobs at a faster pace than Whites or Hispanics. But this assumption ignores two major disconnects between unemployment rates and employment:

First: population growth. Although Black unemployment rates declined by more than that of Hispanics, the Hispanic population is increasing at a far faster rate.

From January 2009 to January 2014 the Hispanic working age population (16 and over) grew by 17.1%. Corresponding growth rates for Blacks and whites: 9.3% and 2.5%, respectively.

Relatively high fertility among U.S.-born Hispanic mothers is one reason why the Hispanic population is growing faster than that of other groups. The other factor: immigration—perhaps more significant because, unlike fertility, it is under the control of public policy and can vary dramatically from year to year. Immigrants, legal and illegal, now make up some 37.4% of the U.S. Hispanic population—so high that we used to use Hispanics employment as a proxy for immigrant displacement of American workers...

The past 12 months offer a classic example of how a horrific labor market can produce a paradoxical decline in unemployment rates. Black labor force participation fell to 60.2% in December 2013, its lowest level in 35 years, before rebounding slightly, to 60.5%, in January. 

A year earlier, in January 2013, Black labor force participation was a comparatively lofty 61.8%. Had that rate been maintained nearly 400,000 more Blacks would be in today’s labor market, at least 85% of them gainfully employed.

Yet the official Black unemployment rate in January 2014, 12.1%, was significantly below the rate of the prior January, 13.8%.

Not to worry, say the Administration spin doctors...