On Tuesday, President Trump painted a rosy picture of the economy during his first State of the Union speech: rising wages, a boom in manufacturing jobs, jobless claims were at their lowest in nearly half a century.
But one of the biggest applause breaks during his survey of the landscape greeted this claim: “Something I’m very proud of — African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.” Cue hoots and hollers and a standing ovation from the members of Congress on the chamber floor.
It was an oddly showy response from the folks in attendance, given how little serious attention is usually paid to black unemployment by members of Congress. Really, who knew they cared so much?
The qualifiers for the president’s claims around black joblessness are pretty significant; indeed, they’re actually the whole story. Most of the improvement in the jobs figures are part of an ongoing trend that can be attributed to the Fed’s management of the economy under Janet Yellen, whom President Trump declined to renominate to run the nation’s central bank. And while the black employment numbers were historically low, at the time of Trump’s speech, the most recent jobs data put black unemployment at 6.8 percent. If those numbers were the overall national figures, the country would be in or near a recession. Consider that for as far back as the data goes, black unemployment has consistently been around twice the rate of joblessness for white people, in strong economies or sluggish ones. If the broader economy is on solid footing, black unemployment numbers is high. When the nation is a downturn, black employment figures teeter on the catastrophic.
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Originally written by Gene Demby