A Dana assembly technician wears a face mask as she assembles axles for automakers, as the auto industry begins reopening amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Dana plant in Toledo, Ohio, May 18, 2020.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
Markets cheered on Friday as new data showed a surprising decline in unemployment, but black workers have little to celebrate.
The black unemployment rate rose slightly in May despite a decline of nearly two percentage points for white workers, a grim but familiar reminder of economic inequality that could serve as an early warning sign for the recovery to come.
The new data comes as protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis last week, continue in dozens of cities around the country. While protesters are directly responding to disparities in policing, they have also pointed to systemic problems of income and wealth inequality, which were exacerbated during the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.
White unemployment fell to 12.4% from 14.2% in April, while black unemployment rose to 16.8% from 16.7%.
President Donald Trump, who is up for reelection in November, has touted his record overseeing an economy in which black workers have prospered, noting that under his watch the unemployment rate for that group hit record lows while wages rose.
During a White House event on Friday to address the new economic data, Trump said he hoped that Floyd was looking down from heaven, pleased with what he saw.
“It’s a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody. It’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day, in terms of equality,” Trump said. The president refused to answer questions from reporters on the rise in the black unemployment rate.
While Trump paints a picture of a recovery where gains are equally shared, experts suggest a more dour outcome could be in store.
Economists are warning that the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has already killed disproportionate numbers of black Americans, could also inflict long lasting economic damage, undoing the gains made by African-Americans over the last decade.
“The thing that disturbs me is how much longer it will take them to make up the gap,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who served on President Barack Obama’s economic team.
“It took 10 years to make back what they’d lost in the Great Recession,” Bernstein said, referring to African Americans. “They lost that in two months, in March and April. It’s the staircase up and…
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