by Robert Romano
In 2016, when President Donald Trump was campaigning to black Americans, the appeal he made was a simple one, “What have you got to lose?”
Nothing, and as it turns out, there was a whole lot to gain, including the best labor market conditions for blacks in American history and maybe for all Americans, too, with near-50-year-low 3.7 percent unemployment nationwide. The rising tide in the Trump economy has been helping Americans of every race and background, including blacks.
Since Jan. 2017, 1 million more African-Americans say they have jobs, up to now 19.4 million, the most ever. Only 1.1 million say they are unemployed, down 1.5 million, even as the population increased 1 million and those participating in the labor force increased by 600,000.
Put another way, black unemployment is down almost a third from the last peak in labor markets in Aug. 2007. Then, unemployment for blacks hit a low of 7.6 percent, before reaching 16.8 percent in March 2010. The rate settled to around 8 percent at the end of the Obama administration, and then began dropping in earnest the second half of 2017.
This economic miracle comes as blacks (and non-blacks, too) today are the most educated in the history of America, a significant generational achievement. The percent of blacks 25-years-old and above with some college and above increased from 50 percent in Jan. 2012 to 56 percent in Aug. 2019 at more than 15.4 million. Non-blacks 25-years-old and above also increased college participation, from 58.2 percent to 62.6 percent, up to 121.6 million.
That is no coincidence. Increased levels of educational attainment are undeniably a major part of the favorable conditions we’re seeing today. Generally, the greater the level of educational attainment, the lower the unemployment rate. The unemployment rates for African-Americans with Bachelor’s degrees or higher or those with some college are as good today as past business cycles. It’s just that now there are more of them as a share of the population, leading to the lower unemployment rates we are witnessing today.
In other words, younger Americans including blacks are studying harder and longer than prior generations, and it’s paying off with the most educated labor force in American history and the lowest unemployment levels in about 50 years.
The biggest area of improvement in 2019 especially for all races including blacks has been the decrease of the unemployment rate for those with less than high school, which is much lower than prior cycles, today at 5.4 percent nationwide. It’s been in the 5’s since the beginning of 2018. The lowest before that was 5.8 percent in Dec. 1999, but that was just for one month. Throughout the late 1990s, unemployment for those who didn’t finish high school was in the 6s and 7s range.
The significant increase in jobs for the least educated can partially be attributed to the dwindling number of those who don’t finish high school, now down to 21.3 million from 26.2 million in Jan. 2009, but that number has been collapsing for more than a generation. The fact is, the Trump economy is bringing opportunities to places that never had any, including those who didn’t even finish high school, by integrating those who were not previously a part of the labor force. It’s valuable experience.
And it’s to everyone’s benefit. More people working amid higher demand for labor pushes wages up, and contributes to the growing economy.
On balance, the Trump economy has been better on an unemployment rate basis as any other boom economy in modern history, including the 1990s. It has helped every group of Americans from every walk of life. What separates it is the improvement for those Americans who were historically disadvantaged. The gaps of inequality are eroding faster than ever.
In 2020, President Trump can take his campaign to urban centers that have traditionally voted Democratic on one of the best economies — and certainly the most equitable — in American history and attribute it in part to the expanded opportunities that his administration are helping to bring back home with its pro-growth, America first polices of lower taxes, fewer regulations and better trade deals.
Where it matters, on jobs and on wages, the Trump economy has been consistently delivering, for blacks, for whites, for Asians, for Hispanics — for everyone. And it’s about time.
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Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.