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News from EPI Black Unemployment Is Still Higher Than Pre-recession Levels in 28 States

In Projected Decline in Unemployment in 2015 Won’t Lift Blacks Out of the Recession-carved Crater, EPI economist Valerie Wilson finds that black unemployment levels remain higher than pre-recession levels in 28 states, even as unemployment rates for whites, Hispanics, and Asians have fallen to just above their pre-recession levels. And while the national white and Hispanic unemployment rates were each within 1 percentage point of their pre-recession levels in the fourth quarter of 2014, the national black unemployment rate was 2.4 percentage points higher than before the recession began.

Using a unique analysis of Current Population Survey data and Local Area Unemployment Statistics program data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, EPI estimated state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity in over 30 states. In 2014, the annual black unemployment rate was highest in Wisconsin (19.9 percent), Nevada (16.1 percent), Michigan (15.8 percent), and the District of Columbia (15.7 percent), out of 30 states for which data was available. Though black unemployment significantly declined in 15 states and the employment-to-population ratio increased in six states, blacks have returned to pre-recession unemployment rates in just two states—Connecticut and South Carolina.

“The unemployment rate for black communities is at a crisis level, even as the economy gets closer and closer to a full recovery,” said Wilson. “Even before the Great Recession, black unemployment has consistently been twice as high as white unemployment. To address this problem, we need to look beyond simply returning to the pre-recession status quo and implement policies aimed at ensuring that everyone who is willing and able to work has a job.”

In the fourth quarter of 2014, nationwide unemployment rates were 4.5 percent for whites, 6.7 percent for Hispanics, 11 percent for blacks, and 4.4 percent for Asians. Strikingly, the national black unemployment rate of 11 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 is still higher than the overall national unemployment rate was at the peak of the recession—9.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. Though the black unemployment rate is projected to drop significantly by the end of 2015, African Americans will still be further from a full recovery than whites or Hispanics.

Other key findings from the paper include:

  • In 2014, the annual white unemployment rate in 2014 was highest in Nevada (7.0 percent), Oregon (6.5 percent), and West Virginia (6.5 percent).
  • Northeastern states continue to have the highest Hispanic unemployment rates. In 2014, the annual Hispanic unemployment rate was 16.2 percent in Rhode Island, 11 percent in Massachusetts, and 10.9 percent in Connecticut.
  • At 7.4 percent, Massachusetts had the highest annual Asian unemployment rate in 2014.