Report Shows Illinois Has One of the Nation’s Highest Black Unemployment Rates Despite an Improving Economy

120612-national-black-unemployment-jobs-spiked-rise-workAcross the country, the economy is supposed to be slowly picking up, but the unemployment rate for Blacks is still about twice the rate of whites. A report by Progress Illinois said the state’s Black unemployment rate is one of the worst in the nation.

According to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI,) only two other states, New Jersey and South Carolina have higher Black unemployment rates than Illinois. D.C. had the highest Black unemployment rate at 14.2 percent, while Tennessee had the lowest at 6.9 percent. Illinois’ Black unemployment rate declined to 11.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015, according to Progress Illinois.

The nationwide unemployment rate has fallen to about 9 percent. However, the Black jobless rate is twice the white unemployment rate of 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“African Americans are still unemployed at a higher rate than their white counterparts in almost every state,” said EPI economist Valerie Wilson, who conducted the unemployment analysis. “We need policies that look beyond simply reducing unemployment to pre-recession levels as an end goal.”

In a press release, Connie Razza, director of strategic research for the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), said, contrary to the improving economy, “Black America is still in the middle of a Great Recession.”

According to Progress Illinois, EPI and the Center for Popular Democracy both called on the Federal Reserve to support policies that would help Black America.

“When [Fed] Chair [Janet] Yellen and other Fed officials talk about raising interest rates in 2015, they are talking about intentionally slowing down the economy and job growth, which would make it harder for most Americans, and particularly Black workers, to find good-paying jobs,” Razza said. “The direct consequences of the Fed’s projected interest rate hikes would harm millions of workers.”

A tight labor market, which we have now, benefits employers since there are more people looking for fewer jobs. This allows employers to keep labor costs low and easily fire workers, because there are hundreds of people lined up to replace them. Razza said the Fed needs to support policies that would move towards a full employment economy.

“A full-employment economy, as we saw in the late 1990s, shrinks racial inequity and will bring particular benefits to Black workers, who are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, and endure more difficult scheduling circumstances in the workplace,” Razza said.

Black unemployment has been a long-standing problem. The Labor Department began tracking employment figures by race in 1972 and since then the Black jobless rate has stubbornly remained at twice the white rate. Employment experts say its not just a matter of training and education. Studies have shown Black men with college educations have higher unemployment rates than white men with just a high school education.

However, economists say the improving economy is making it easier for all Americans, including Black people, to find work.

“Now, you’re starting to see a broad recovery which is reaching groups with high unemployment rates like African-Americans and teens,” said Michael Madowitz, an economist at the American Center for Progress in a CNN article.

This issue was also brought up during the last Republican debate.

“Once you have economic growth, it’s important we reach out to people who live in the shadows… which includes people in our minority community and people who feel they don’t have the chance to move up,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate.

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