This week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders touted false unemployment statistics for black workers—in order to defend President Trump against charges of racism.
Sanders told reporters at a press briefing, "When President Obama left after eight years in office—eight years in office—he had only created 195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years." This was, of course, incorrect. The Council of Economic Advisors tweeted out corrected information and took responsibility for the error. The truth is that, over the eight years that Obama was president, about three million jobs were created for black workers. Sanders then apologized in a tweet, while adding she had “no apologies for the 700,000 jobs for African Americans created under President Trump.”
But not only was her claim false, Sanders was using the data to somehow prove that the president can’t be racist—an argument made more urgent because there may now be a tape of Trump using a racial slur, as if that will finally prove the president is racist. Never mind that Trump calling Mexicans rapists during his announcement of candidacy back in 2015. Never mind that Trump was sued decades ago by the Justice Department for discriminating against black people seeking housing. Never mind all the tweets and all the policies. Trust me, we don’t need a tape to know.
But while falling rates of black unemployment are to be celebrated, the very fact that there are very different rates of unemployment for different races points to the persistence of racist policies today, or to policies of years past that still have an effect on today’s workers.
A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute by Janelle Jones details unemployment statistics for the second quarter of 2018. While the black unemployment rate fell in 17 states (of 23 states where data is available) to below pre-recession levels, black unemployment, at 6.4 percent, was double that of white unemployment, which was 3.2 percent. In ten states and the District of Columbia, black unemployment was at least double the white unemployment rate. In D.C., the black unemployment rate was 12.4 percent, the highest rate in the country, and over eight times that of the white unemployment rate. The highest white unemployment rate was, by contrast, 5.1 percent in West Virginia.
Mass incarceration and the over-policing of black communities make it more likely that black Americans will have previous involvement with the criminal justice system, which makes it more difficult to get a job. “Ban the Box” laws have cropped up across the country to encourage employers to remove the question about criminal convictions early in the job search, since those questions may disqualify qualified black job applicants. But even Ban the Box can’t fully protect black workers from employer prejudice, as employers may instead just assume that a black applicant does have a criminal past. That’s just one reason why black workers are more likely to be discriminated against than white workers when entering the labor market.
Racial discrimination has a particular effect on tipped workers. Black workers who rely on tips tend to receive fewer tips than whites. And because of the inequity baked into the labor market, black workers are already disproportionately represented in the low-wage labor market.
As the United States continues to recover from the Great Recession, unemployment is falling, so black unemployment is falling in some areas too. But the Trump administration is not actually making efforts to reduce the inequities in the labor market. If anything, it’s doing the opposite by promoting work requirements that will disproportionately affect black workers in the low-wage labor market who rely on food stamps and Medicaid for help with groceries and health care. The administration, and its judicial appointees, are also leading a fight against labor unions, which are important buffers against attacks on wages and benefits. Given the entrenched inequality between black and white wages, unionization benefits black workers more than white workers.
So it’s doubly disgusting that Sanders tried to excuse Trump for his blatant racism by pointing to job creation—especially because Trump and his trickle-down companions are bent on increasing the divide between black and white workers.
Tax Cuts for the rich. Deregulation for the powerful. Wage suppression for everyone else. These are the tenets of trickle-down economics, the conservatives’ age-old strategy for advantaging the interests of the rich and powerful over those of the middle class and poor. The articles in Trickle-Downers are devoted, first, to exposing and refuting these lies, but equally, to reminding Americans that these claims aren’t made because they are true. Rather, they are made because they are the most effective way elites have found to bully, confuse and intimidate middle- and working-class voters. Trickle-down claims are not real economics. They are negotiating strategies. Here at the Prospect, we hope to help you win that negotiation.