Good News: Unemployment Among Black Men Drops

Shani O. Hilton at Colorlines:
When the Labor Department released the January unemployment rate last week, there was finally some good news to celebrate—and some news that seemed almost too good to be true. Black unemployment saw its steepest drop since the recession began, dipping more than two points. Apparently, that happy improvement was largely driven by black men being hired in larger numbers than anyone can remember.

So what, exactly, is happening here? Nobody saw it coming, and there's no immediate explanation. I talked to Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute, to get some insight.

Colorlines: So, the interesting thing about January's unemployment rate was that the unemployment rate for black men dropped 3 percent—from 15.7 percent to 12.7 percent—even though workforce participation stayed about the same. That's not something we've seen before, is it?

Algernon Austin: Such a large drop in the unemployment rate is quite surprising. Certainly, we haven't seen a drop that large any time recently. There was a slight decline in workforce participation, but even looking at that, we're talking about a very large decline for blacks, and particularly black men, which is quite unusual.

What are the fields—or are there any—where it's more likely that black men were hired?

It's a real mystery to figure out what might be going on here. The public sector dropped jobs, so that's not likely to be it. Restaurants and bars—that's not likely. Retail, maybe some retail; maybe some health care. Maybe temporary health services, construction. But really, I don't know.
It is not just a coincidence that, during the first bit of job growth we've had since Barack Obama was elected, black men are "being hired in larger numbers than anyone can remember." It is evidence of the known effects of visible diversity.

To think that seeing a black man in the news, competently running the most powerful nation on the planet, day after day for three years, hasn't worked on the subconscious of US employers, hasn't sent a message that gets internalized in the same way the narratives of exclusion and marginalization and less than do, is to imagine that humans work in a way that we actually don't.

That is not the only explanation for this good news. There are certainly other influences, which Algernon Austin and his team will suss out at the invaluable EPI.

But I wanted to note nonetheless: This is no coincidence. This is the value of meaningful inclusion.

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