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News from EPI A Meaningful Economic Recovery is Still a Long Way off for Many Americans

In March 2015, the national unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, showing little progress since the previous low of 5.6 percent at the end of 2014.   Yet, even as the recovery moves ahead slowly, conditions vary greatly across states and across racial and ethnic groups, according to a new Economic Policy Institute analysis from EPI Director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy Valerie Wilson. In the latest addition to EPI’s toolbox of economic indicators, Wilson examines state unemployment rates by race and racial gaps in unemployment for the first quarter of 2015. EPI provides this unique analysis, including an interactive map of unemployment rates by state and race, on a quarterly basis.

In March 2015, state unemployment rates ranged from a high of 7.7 percent in the District of Columbia to a low of 2.6 percent in Nebraska (replacing North Dakota as the state with the lowest unemployment rate). Nationally, African Americans had the highest unemployment rate, at 10.1 percent, followed by Latinos at 6.8 percent, whites at 4.7 percent, and Asians at 3.2 percent.

“Despite the small improvement in the national unemployment rate, a meaningful economic recovery is still a long way off for many Americans,” said Wilson. “Pursuing a policy of full employment would significantly bring down the unemployment rate among people of color and would help ensure that all Americans share in our economic gains.”

The African American unemployment rate was lowest in Virginia (7.4 percent) and highest in the District of Columbia (15.8 percent), surpassing Michigan, which had the highest black unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2014.  While the African American unemployment rate is at or below its pre-recession level in six states—Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee—this represents very little progress since each of these states also had black unemployment rates that were among the highest in the nation before the recession.

The Hispanic unemployment rate was highest in Connecticut (12.6 percent) and lowest in Georgia (3.5 percent). The Hispanic unemployment rate is at or below its pre-recession level in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas.  In Texas, the Hispanic unemployment rate was also lower than the national average in the fourth quarter of 2007, and remains so currently.  The Hispanic unemployment rate is lower than the white rate in Georgia, while the Hispanic–white unemployment rate gap is largest in Connecticut, where the Hispanic unemployment rate is 2.6 times the white rate.

The Asian unemployment rate was lowest in Texas (2.5 percent) and highest in the state of Washington (5.7 percent). Texas was the only state where the first-quarter estimate of the Asian unemployment rate was below the pre-recession levels.