President Trump and his aides have spent much of the past month heralding the historically low unemployment rate for black Americans.
“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone. After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages,” the president said during his State of the Union address Tuesday.
“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”
Trump has been criticized recently for taking more credit for the low unemployment rate than he should. The black unemployment rate has been decreasing for eight years, and it recorded its most significant drops during the presidency of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has reported.
But often overlooked in Trump’s praise of himself is that the black unemployment rate is nearly double the white unemployment rate. While the black unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in December 2017, the white unemployment rate was 3.7 percent.
A tweet by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the first day of Black History Month highlighted the issue of discrimination in the workplace. But in reality, the issues of the two men in her tribute are still very real today.
“50 years ago today the deaths of two hard-working Americans, Echol Cole & Robert Walker, sparked the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis. On the first day of
#BlackHistoryMonth we remember their sacrifice & honor their memory. #BHM,” she tweeted.
Cole and Walker were crushed by a malfunctioning truck. Less than two weeks later, about 1,300 black men employed by the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike demanding better safety standards.
But another issue that motivated the men’s strike was the demand for “a decent wage.” The sanitation workers were mostly black and did not receive compensation and benefits comparable to other city employees, many of whom were white.
The protests eventually prompted the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to go to Memphis to draw attention to the protest. His involvement was notable for highlighting demands to decrease the black-white wage gap as part of his fight for equal rights for black Americans. A few days later, he was assassinated.
Racist policies that existed in the 1960s — and centuries before — still factor into the wealth gap between black and white Americans in 2018.
The Post’s Tracy Jan wrote:
White families are five times more likely than black or Hispanic families to inherit money. That translates into opportunity — a down payment on a home, tuition to go to school, capital to build a small business, savings to retire on.
“Wealth is not just money in the bank. It’s insurance against tough times,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-director of the institute’s opportunity and ownership initiative. “These are steppingstones to the middle class. Wealth translates into opportunity.”
Some of Trump’s lowest approval ratings come from black Americans. Much of that disdain stems from comments that black Americans and lawmakers who represent them consider racist, but it is also because many Americans believe the Trump administration treats African Americans differently.
A recent poll by The Post and ABC News showed that 40 percent of Americans strongly believe Trump has a bias against black people. One way Trump could lower that number, besides refraining from making racially insensitive comments, is by explaining what he plans to do to eliminate the unemployment gap between black and white Americans.