Monday, July 28, 2008


Someone who knows that I follow U.S. policy on poverty and unemployment asked me for a number that is not those typically reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics: What proportion of the unemployed are African American?

The answer is not as simple as looking up a ready made official figure.

In June, the African-American labor force totaled 16 million, or 57.8 percent of the total African-American civilian, noninstitutional population (27.8 million). I offer these figures to highlight that "labor force" essentially means civilians out of jail who are able and willing to work.

Of that group, 1.6 million people were unemployed (for a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, compared 4.9 percent for whites). See this Bureau of Labor Statistics table.

Now, in response to the question, the total number of people unemployed in June was 8.4 million (see this other table). Thus, that the 1.6 million who were black represented about 19 percent of all unemployed.

Let's put this in context.

The 37,051,483 people who are black are roughly 12.3 percent of the total population of 299,398,485 (see these 2006 Census Bureau figures). Given that they make up 19 percent of the unemployed, blacks are overrepresented among the unemployed and roughly 1.5 times more likely to be unemployed than the overall population.
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