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  • February 23, 2018

New York Times (February 23, 2018)

The unemployment rate for black workers hit its lowest point on record recently.
But even a strong labor market has limits in spreading opportunity widely.

President Trump celebrated the milestone on Twitter and in his State of the Union address. The unemployment rate for black Americans had hit its lowest point on record, a sign that the recovery was at last reaching groups that had been left behind.

But the achievement was bittersweet: Black joblessness was still roughly twice the rate for whites.

Even at the low of 6.8 percent recorded in December — it climbed back to 7.7 percent in January — the unemployment level for black Americans would qualify as a near crisis for whites. And the relative gains have not erased disparities in opportunity and pay.

A tight labor market alone can’t undo a legacy of unequal school funding, residential segregation or the disproportionate rate of incarceration for black Americans. Nor can it reverse the gradual shift of well-paying jobs from inner cities to mostly white suburbs. Studies have found that discrimination in hiring and pay persists even in good economic times, making parity an elusive goal.

“It’s not microwaveable,” said Louis King, who runs a training program in Minnesota that aims to put minority workers into construction and healthcare careers. “You don’t press a button and it suddenly changes.”


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