How Do You Talk About Black Unemployment Without Talking About Government Jobs?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 11 2012 10:43 AM

How Do You Talk About Black Unemployment Without Talking About Government Jobs?

I'm waiting to see what else Romney says about it, but the pre-speech part of his NAACP remarks that dealt with unemployment deserves another look.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income, and median family wealth are all worse for the black community. In June, while the overall unemployment rate remained stuck at 8.2 percent, the unemployment rate for African Americans actually went up, from 13.6 percent to 14.4 percent.
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Republicans love this statistic -- iron-clad proof that the first black president has been a disaster for blacks. What's usually left unsaid is the the role that public sector lay-offs have had in pumping up those numbers. Black Americans tend to seek government jobs, historically more stable than the private sector, at a higher rate than other Americans.* In 2011, UC-Berkeley's Labor Center looked at those numbers.

During  2008-2010, 21.2% of all Black workers are public employees, compared with 16.3% of non-Black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.

That was in early 2011 -- the report was inspired, in part, by Scott Walker's reforms in Wisconsin. More than 150,000 public sector jobs have been cut since then. Total state/local public sector job loss during the Obama presidency: 636,000.

Romney's been pretty clear about this. He wants to keep shrinking the public sector. It's not good, from the Republican perspective, that the government was relied on for so long as the place to get secure, high-reward, high-pension jobs. We can't afford it. Just ask somebody from Greece. But it's odd to talk about black unemployment and omit talk of all the educational, bureaucratic, and assorted government jobs that Republicans worked hard to cut back.

*There were other reasons! Anyone who's lived in D.C. for a while knows that Marion Barry's mayoralty packed the employment roles with black workers, endeavoring to expand the black middle class. There's nothing comporable in, say, the phone repair industry. Phone repair company presidents don't need to get re-elected.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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