After Mitt Romney commented on the black unemployment rate during his NAACP speech, Sean Hannity echoed Romney's words and claimed President Obama “made it worse.” But black unemployment is down from its peak after the recession, and the president has proposed action to stop the loss of the primary means of employment in the black community - public sector jobs.
During his speech to the NAACP on Wednesday, Romney said:
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.
That night, Fox News host Sean Hannity brought up Romney's speech and said of the black unemployment rate under the Obama administration: “It hasn't gotten better, it's gotten worse.” Hannity then repeatedly asserted that the president “made it worse.”
Fox News contributor Santita Jackson noted that the wealth of the black community has dropped since 1983, and noted that they faced difficult times under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Mother Jones reporter Andy Kroll recently wrote that black unemployment has historically been much higher than white unemployment, and that the unemployment gap “goes back at least 60 years.” Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that the unemployment rate among blacks was much higher during the 1983 recession under President Reagan than it was during the most recent recession, peaking at 20.7 percent:
A look at BLS data for the black unemployment rate over the past five years shows that it surged as the recession hit -- before the president took office -- and has declined from its peak of 16.7 percent, though there has been a small uptick since April:
But Hannity ignored another key fact in the high unemployment rate in the black community. Blacks work more in the public sector than in any other industry and the public sector has faced huge job cuts, even as private-sector jobs have grown.
As Slate's David Weigel noted, it's difficult to have a real conversation about the black unemployment rate without including the role that public-sector layoffs have had. A February report from the Department of Labor stated:
Black workers are more likely to be employed in the public sector than are either their white or Hispanic counterparts. In 2011, nearly 20 percent of employed Blacks worked for state, local, or federal government compared to 14.2 percent of Whites and 10.4 percent of Hispanics.
The report also explained that the recession hit blacks more severely than other major racial groups, and the recovery for blacks was slower partly because of government layoffs:
Historically, Blacks have had persistently higher unemployment rates than the other major racial and ethnic groups. In addition, the increase in the black unemployment rate during the recession was larger than that for other races partly because workers with less education are particularly hard hit during recessions. Moreover, the unemployment rate for Blacks was slower to fall after the official end of the recession. The slower recovery for African Americans in the labor market has been partly the result of government layoffs after the official end of the recession. Blacks have been more vulnerable to the drastic layoffs in government in the past two years because they make up a disproportionate share of public sector workers. Moreover, with the exception of health and education, Blacks are under-represented in the sectors that have experienced the greatest job growth during the recovery, including manufacturing and professional and business services.
Last November, The New York Times reported on the importance of public sector jobs to the black community:
The central role played by government employment in black communities is hard to overstate. African-Americans in the public sector earn 25 percent more than other black workers, and the jobs have long been regarded as respectable, stable work for college graduates, allowing many to buy homes, send children to private colleges and achieve other markers of middle-class life that were otherwise closed to them.
Blacks have relied on government jobs in large numbers since at least Reconstruction, when the United States Postal Service hired freed slaves. The relationship continued through a century during which racial discrimination barred blacks from many private-sector jobs, and carried over into the 1960s when government was vastly expanded to provide more services, like bus lines to new suburbs, additional public hospitals and schools, and more.
Economists have said that the public-sector job losses during the recession have been severe and unusual compared with previous recessions, which usually saw growth of public-sector jobs. Hannity claimed President Obama made black unemployment worse, and Romney claimed he would make thing better for the black community. But Romney is the one who dismissed the need for more public-sector jobs and called for all public-sector jobs that have been added during Obama's presidency to be cut. President Obama's American Jobs Act includes provisions to prevent further public sector layoffs, which would help with unemployment in the black community.