National Data | Why Has Black Unemployment Risen (Yes, Risen!) In The "Bush Boom"?
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Recent employment reports show steady, if undramatic, increases in hiring. Some Administration pundits talk, without irony, about a "Bush Boom."

The "jobless recovery" may be over for some—most notably Hispanics. But the story is very different for Black Americans. Blacks are faring worse than they did at a similar stage in the previous recovery at the end of Bush I's term. Amazingly, thirteen quarters into the "Bush Boom," Black unemployment has risen.

Here are the comparative results for the first 13 quarters of this economic recovery as compiled by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI):  ["African Americans in the current recovery," April 6, 2005.]

  • Total unemployment rate: down 0.2 percentage points now; down 0.4 points in the early 1990s recovery


  • White unemployment: down 0.4 points now; down 0.4 points then


  • Black unemployment: Up 0.8 points now; down 0.6 points then


  • Black male unemployment: Up 1.4 points now; down 0.7 points then


  • Black female unemployment: Up 0.3 points now; down 0.5 points then

Black unemployment generally responds to changing economic conditions more quickly than white unemployment, reflecting the over-representation of Blacks in manufacturing and other highly cyclical sectors of the economy. The trend held in the early 1990s. It abruptly ended with Bush II's recovery.


EPI lists the usual suspects: a relatively weak demand for labor (i.e., a jobless recovery), the decline of manufacturing; and (it claims) a "labor market [that] still discriminates against minorities, particularly African-American males."

But if racial discrimination is such a factor, why has Hispanic job growth outpaced that of whites? (For example, Hispanics got 60 percent of the new jobs created in March; in the entire Bush II era Hispanic employment has grown 14.3 percent vs. just 0.3 percent for non-Hispanic employment growth.)

In fact, discrimination is the best explanation for persistent Black unemployment - but not the sort of discrimination EPI has in mind.

Arguably the most racist policy in this country for the past quarter century has been immigration policy. The onslaught of poorly educated, mainly Hispanic immigrants has stymied good faith efforts of African Americans to climb up the economic ladder.

Since 1990 immigrants have been the predominant driver of U.S. labor force growth. The immigrant share of labor force expansion has rocketed from 34 percent in the 1990-1995 period to about 60 percent in the most recent three-years for which we have data (2000 to 2003). (See Table 1.)

In 1990, after more than 200 years of nationhood, the foreign-born share of the U.S. labor force was 9.4 percent. Thirteen years later it was 14.4 percent.

In some parts of the country a decade of heavy immigration has swept Blacks out of jobs that were traditionally theirs. In Los Angeles the janitorial industry, once a source of well paid work for unionized Blacks, is now dominated by non-unionized Latinos. According to the Census, the employment of Black Americans as hotel workers in California dropped 30 percent in absolute numbers in the 1980s. In contrast, the absolute number of immigrants with such jobs rose 166 percent.

Similar stories are told in the garment industry, restaurants, hospital work, and public service jobs.

Jobs that Americans won't do? Tell that to unemployed African-Americans.

Edwin S. Rubenstein (email him) is President of ESR Research Economic Consultants in Indianapolis.

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