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News from EPI Despite a Year of Strong Job Growth, Recovery Remains Uneven Between States and Across Racial Groups

While job growth in 2014 was the strongest it’s been since before the Great Recession, the recovery is reaching people unevenly by state and race, 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 fourth quarter of 2014. EPI provides this unique analysis, including an interactive map of unemployment rates by state and race, on a quarterly basis.

The national unemployment rate in December was 5.6 percent—its lowest point since June 2008—but unemployment rates varied greatly across states and across racial groups. In December, state unemployment rates ranged from a high of 7.3 percent in the District of Columbia to a low of 2.8 percent in North Dakota. Meanwhile, nationally, African Americans had the highest unemployment rate, at 10.4 percent, followed by Latinos at 6.5 percent, whites at 4.8 percent, and Asians at 4.2 percent.

“This analysis shows that, no matter what the headline numbers show, full economic recovery is still a long way off for many Americans,” said Wilson. “We should vigorously pursue policies to ensure that recovery reaches everyone—such as full employment, which would significantly bring down the unemployment rate among people of color.”

The African American unemployment rate was lowest in Virginia (7.5 percent) and highest in Michigan (16.3 percent). Although 7.5 percent is the lowest black unemployment rate in the country, it is still nearly 1 percentage point above the white unemployment rate in Nevada—the state where white unemployment is the highest. The Hispanic unemployment rate was highest in Rhode Island (12.9 percent) and lowest in the District of Columbia (3.2 percent). Since 2007, Rhode Island has seen tremendous growth in its Hispanic population, and the state’s Hispanic unemployment rate exceeds its pre-recession level by 5.5 percentage points. The Asian unemployment rate was lowest in Virginia (2.8 percent) and highest in Massachusetts (7.6 percent).