Is The Black Unemployment Rate Already 20 Percent?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of August 2011 the national unemployment rate is 9.1%. When you add those who are employed part time for economic reasons, others marginally attached to the labor force and those who have stopped looking for work, that rate jumps to 16.2%. But there’s one group not included among the unemployed that no one talks about – the incarcerated. And this group has an effect on the true unemployment rate, especially the true black unemployment rate.

The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing the unemployed by the total labor force. What makes you unemployed or a member of the labor force is another story. However, let’s look at the following tables:

* Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Black unemployment rate is and has historically been about twice the rate of whites since the government began tracking these numbers in 1972. The current Black unemployment rate is at its highest level since 1984. Now, let’s look at the number of people incarcerated in the United States as of June 2009:

* Sources: U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Census

Ironically, Blacks make up nearly 40% of the incarcerated even though they make up only 12.6% of the total population.

“Even when the economy was supposedly good, unemployment was above the national average in the Black community. That’s what drove a lot of us to become self-made entrepreneurs, illegally and legally. Unemployment has a way making some people pursue and create opportunities they normally wouldn’t have,” says Randy Kearse, author of Changin’ Your Game Plan. Now, let’s fast forward to 2011. Since the number of inmates has more than quadrupled since 1980, let’s assume that the number of incarcerated doesn’t go down. For simplicity, let’s keep these numbers the same and add them to the unemployed and the total labor force (assuming they would be eligible if they weren’t incarcerated) and see how the unemployment rates change by race:

Because the Black prison and jail population is higher in number and much higher in proportion to the total population the unemployment rate goes up by about 4% to 20.9%. The differences for Hispanics and whites are much lower.

The Mark of a Criminal Record, a University of Chicago study by sociologist Devah Pager, concluded that white men with criminal records (17%) have an easier time getting called back on a job application than Black men without a criminal record (14%). When you factor in that Blacks with a criminal record have a much tougher time finding work than those who don’t and that those who have criminal records have a much tougher time assimilating into mainstream society after serving time, the Black unemployment rate is much closer to 20.9% than 17.0%. Then when you add those who are employed part time for economic reasons, others marginally attached to the labor force and those who have stopped looking for work, you probably have an unemployment rate that’s closer to 30%.
So will the Black unemployment rate hit 20% soon? I think it already has. And it’s still climbing.