Posted on September 19, 2021

The Rise in Black Unemployment Is About More Than Race

Walter Myers III, National Review, September 15, 2021

Recently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its disappointing monthly jobs report, which showed that the economy had added only 250,000 jobs in August, far fewer than the 750,000 expected. While the overall unemployment rate dropped to 5.2 percent from the previous 5.4 percent, the unemployment rate for black Americans was also a lowlight, rising from 8.2 percent to 8.8 percent while the unemployment rate for whites dropped from 4.8 percent to 4.5 percent.

The latter disparity led AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs to argue that the primary cause of rising black unemployment is discrimination. Spriggs noted that the unemployment rate among black workers who had attained associate degrees (6.9 percent) exceeded the 5.8 percent unemployment rate among white high-school dropouts. Moreover, the unemployment rate for those of all races with less than a high-school diploma was 7 percent, while the unemployment rate for blacks with a high-school diploma and no college degree was 10 percent. This led Spriggs to argue that employers are clearly “passing over Black workers.”

I would respectfully disagree with Spriggs. While there is certainly some racial discrimination in the jobs market, the primary factor inhibiting higher economic attainment within the black population is the failure of urban public-school districts to adequately prepare black students for a four-year college or, alternatively, other post-secondary education such as technical or vocational training. {snip}


This last factor plays a particularly important role in creating the economic disparity between black and white Americans. Take, for instance, the current state of K–12 education for black students in California, based on recent statistics from an article by Ricardo Cano at Cal Matters:

  • In 2019, 21 percent of black students were proficient in math, compared to 54 percent of white students and 74 percent of Asian students. Thirty-three percent of black students were proficient in English, compared to 65 percent of white students and 77 percent of Asian students.
  • Also in 2019, just 24 percent of graduating black high-school seniors were prepared for postsecondary education, compared to 54 percent of their white peers and 74 percent of their Asian peers.
  • A recent study by Stanford researchers found that school poverty, not a school’s racial composition, is the primary driver of student-achievement gaps. {snip}

Given these realities, comparing black workers with associate degrees to white high-school dropouts is comparing apples and oranges. {snip}