The close of 2017 brought historically positive news for unemployment among African Americans nationwide.
The annual average unemployment rate for Blacks fell to 7.5 percent last year. And in December, Black unemployment dropped to 6.8 percent – the lowest ever recorded by the US Labor Department since it started tracking the rate back in 1972.
The Black unemployment rate is still almost double its white counterpart, however, which sits at 3.7 percent.
Last year’s numbers reflect the sunnier times of 2000, when the annual average for Black unemployment was 7.6 percent and the monthly low swooped to seven percent in April of that year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Today’s figures indicate that recovery from the Great Recession of 2008 is starting to reach a wider range of demographics, which is good news compared to the past decade.
In the fallout of the financial crisis, unemployment for Black Americans reached 16.8 percent in 2010. That means more than one out of every six African Americans was without work.
In Oregon, unemployment figures based on race are not tracked the same as they are nationally.
“We have to use a different source of data for the Black unemployment rate, so we can't make a direct comparison with the nation,” said Nick Beleiciks, state employment economist with the Oregon Employment Department, who added that numbers for 2017 are not yet available.
Even so, what the department can provide from previous years tells a bleaker tale for Black Oregonians.
In 2016, the unemployment rate of African Americans was 13.1 percent – significantly higher than Oregon's overall unemployment rate, which was 5.7 percent the same year.
The lowest Black unemployment rate on record in Oregon was 9.1 percent in 2007, which was considerably closer to the state’s 6.5 percent unemployment rate at the time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey.
While the US Labor Department reports that 2.1 million jobs were added in 2017, the hiring gap between White and Black remains pronounced – and tends to more than double that of Whites.
Stereotyping and race-related bias during interview processes can lead to high unemployment rates for Black Americans.
The Washington Post cited a study in which resumes with “White-sounding” names were selected for interviews 50 percent more times than those with “Black-sounding names.”
Wages, too, continue to lag for American Africans. The U.S. Census Bureau released data last September that said Blacks are the only racial group still making less than they did in 2000.
In Oregon, the average household made $57,532 in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. Meanwhile, Black families earned far less at $35,723.