Black Unemployment Hits Historic Low. Should Trump Get Credit or Are We Getting Played?

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

One thing that happens in a new relationship is that you start getting confused about who gets credit for what.


Was I this good a salsa dancer with my ex?

He (or she) totally cries during This Is Us, just like I do!

Did I always like shrimp and grits, or does new bae just cook them better than Grandma did?

In the real world, your friends who’ve known you will set the record straight: You were never a good salsa dancer and still aren’t. You said the same thing when you and your ex watched the first season of Being Mary Jane, and you’ve always liked grits; you literally have a Groupon for Quaker Oats.

When it comes to politics, unlike relationships, cause and effect aren’t so clear. Did 9/11 happen because President George W. Bush screwed up or because President Bill Clinton didn’t kill Osama bin Laden when he had the chance? Did President Barack Obama have a weak economic recovery, or did Bush run out the back door, leaving him a dumpster fire?

Now that America is in a new relationship with a married man, President Donald Trump (it’s not his first time), we are again trying to figure out who deserves credit for what. African-American unemployment numbers are historically low in Trump’s first few months in office, but is that because Obama’s economy is still humming along, or did Trump somehow accidentally, not on purpose, manage to do something good for black America? The numbers suggest that it might be a little bit of both.

Starting this spring into the summer, African-American unemployment under Trump dropped to the lowest levels in almost 20 years. As of the end of July, the black-vs.-white employment gap is the smallest it’s been since April 2000, back when “Say My Name” was a new song, Dave Chappelle was just a skinny kid “Killing Them Softly,” and was peak social media. Mind you, the 7.4 percent black unemployment rate is still higher than the 3.8 percent white unemployment rate, but considering how bad things were throughout most of the Great Recession, this is good news.


If you’re not tired of Trump winning yet, consider that in the first six months of his presidency, unemployment levels in major cities like Cleveland, Baltimore and Chicago went down, which tends to indicate that black people in large population centers are finding work. Most important, black gains in employment have tended to be in areas like nursing, home health care and transportation, which are professions less likely to shrink in the future, as opposed to construction and farming jobs, which are continuing to decline across the country.

Illustration for article titled Black Unemployment Hits Historic Low. Should Trump Get Credit or Are We Getting Played?

So does this mean that campaign-trail Trump was right all along? Black folks had nothing to lose by voting for him? That Trump, with the help of Ben Carson and Omarosa, is saving African Americans from devastation and despair? Can Donald Trump really take credit for all this magical economic change occurring around the nation for black folks?

Not really.

Trump taking credit for this economy is akin to a man bragging that his mediocre back rubs loosened up your shoulders, when your ex taught you yoga, was certified in Reiki and worked at Massage Envy. Trump isn’t necessarily screwing anything up, but this situation was already popping long before he showed up.


African-American unemployment was at 7.7 percent when Obama left office in January, a downward trend that had been moving along for the better part of 2016. Most economists would argue that no president really “owns” the economy until a good 12-18 months into his (or her) first term. Prior to that, you’re just managing what the last person left you.

President Ronald Reagan and Obama inherited horrible recessions, while Bush and Trump inherited growing economies. Further weakening the argument for Trump’s taking credit for low black unemployment is that this administration hasn’t passed any major legislation that would supposedly boost the economy—no tax reform, no infrastructure bills. Without any substantive economic legislative action, this presidency has more or less been along for the ride in a car Obama bought and put gas in.


Trump supporters would counter that rolling back regulations on business has made American companies more bullish about hiring, an argument that has some merit but remains a double-edged sword when you look at the entirety of the Trump administration. While Trump may have “unshackled” businesses by working to repeal pesky requirements that businesses not pollute our water, or that retirement homes not scam senior citizens or allow them to be sexually assaulted, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also been busy. The Department of Justice will be scaling back or downright ignoring many cases of racial discrimination against minorities in the workplace in favor of protecting disadvantaged white males, a new policy direction that will certainly harm African-American chances for employment, advancement and training.

The fact that Trump is attempting to take credit for an Obama economy that he trashed just a few months ago should come as no surprise to anyone who’s watched this man’s behavior over the last two years. Trump will continue to show up to black America, claiming that we’ve never had it this good, at least as long as it suits him. Eventually the Obama effect is going to wear off, and Trump will have to stand on his own economic relationship with black America. Which will make it abundantly clear, as if we didn’t already know, that Trump’s stimulus package for black America will be found lacking.


Hearing the unemployment numbers always irks me because they don’t take into account those folks who have already hit their unemployment compensation max but have not yet found employment. It’s misleading as hell.