Tamarine Cornelius
Wisconsin Budget

The Black-White Unemployment Gap

Black workers in state 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - Mar 29th, 2018 12:58 pm

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has hit a record low and is being cited by state policymakers as evidence of Wisconsin’s strong economy. But although the unemployment rate for white workers is strikingly low, black workers in the state still face an unemployment rate higher than the rate experienced by white workers at the peak of the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate describes the share of workers who are looking for a job and can’t find one. In Wisconsin, the unemployment rate fell to 2.9% for February, the lowest monthly level in state history. Governor Scott Walker called Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate “a big win for Wisconsin” and tweeted, “Future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

But not all workers are sharing in that big win. The unemployment rate for black workers in Wisconsin is three and a half times as high as the rate for white workers. Black workers in Wisconsin faced an unemployment rate of 9.6% in 2017, compared to 2.6% for white workers, a difference of more than six percentage points.

Wisconsin's Black Unemployment Rate Still Higher than White Rate at Height of Recession

Wisconsin’s Black Unemployment Rate Still Higher than White Rate at Height of Recession

The difference between unemployment rates for white and black workers in Wisconsin means that black job seekers had a significantly harder time finding a job in 2017 than white workers did when their unemployment rate peaked at 7.5% in 2010. In effect, the recession is still continuing for black workers. In fact, you have to go back 34 years to 1983 to find a time the unemployment rate for white workers in Wisconsin was as high as the black workers’ rate in 2017.

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate for white workers closely tracks the national average, a trend that calls into question how much credit state policymakers should be taking for bringing about the low overall unemployment rate. But Wisconsin’s jobless rate for black workers exceeds the national average by a considerable amount: 9.3% of black job seekers in Wisconsin could not find a job, compared to a national average of 7.5% for black workers. In 2017, Wisconsin’s black unemployment rate was fifth highest among the states (out of 29 states with information), meaning that only four states had higher black jobless rates.

Different Patterns in Wisconsin's White, Black Unemployment

Different Patterns in Wisconsin’s White, Black Unemployment

The black-white unemployment gap exists even after controlling for factors like education, experience, and age – pointing to systemic denial of opportunity for black workers. As the New York Times noted:

“[A] hard truth is that even when the economy picks up and employers are on a hiring binge, black people have a harder time getting jobs and are paid less than similarly situated white workers. That is exactly what happened from 1996 to 2000, the last genuinely hot job market, and it points clearly to racial discrimination, not just in hiring, but in a range of public policies that disproportionately affect black people. These include the dearth and high cost of child care, which harms single mothers the most; poor public transportation in many rural and suburban areas, which makes keeping a job difficult; and mass incarceration of black men and the barriers to employment that go with it.”

The unemployment rate gives only a partial picture of how workers are faring in an economy, as it doesn’t measure other important factors like labor force participation or wage growth, neither of which is at particularly promising levels for Wisconsin workers. Even given those caveats, Wisconsin’s overall low unemployment rate is a favorable sign that many job seekers are successful at finding employment – but the gap between black and white unemployment rates tells us that not all workers in Wisconsin are offered the same opportunity for success. Glossing over that fact will make it harder to tackle structural barriers to employment and ensure workers of all races have bright futures.

15 thoughts on “Wisconsin Budget: The Black-White Unemployment Gap”

  1. Troll says:

    If your a person of any color and you have five kids before you are 30 years of age you are probably living in poverty. If your a male and you purposely avoid paying child support you are a loser. If your a person that needs daycare options and your not getting state assistance you are screwed. The daycare industry is highly regulated and many daycare operators prefer a state check over you. If you are hopefully drug free and you expect a free ride to Racine to work at Fox Conn good luck, its possible. We already busted the budget with Medicaid funding maybe we can give free public housing too.

  2. Terry says:

    @Russian Troll, Did you learn ALL THAT in Mein Kampf?

    Dump Walker 2018

  3. LynnH says:

    I’m sure the Wisconsin African American High School drop out rate is a major reason for this. this.https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2016/10/17/wisconsin-posts-largest-white-black-graduation-gap/92306710/

  4. Mike says:

    There are certainly a lot of factors for this disparity missing from this article.

  5. geoffreyskoll says:

    The unemployment rate used in this article has by now approached absolute meaninglessness. It was always a fantasy going back to when it was first invented. Much better measures are labor force participation rate and payroll to population ratio. By those two measures US employment is now about the same as it was in the 1930s.

  6. Jake currently of the MKE says:

    Republicans welcome poverty and inequality because that’s what their white supremacist base lived. Gives the white guys an excuse to have an arsenal of weapons and red meat to dire up their racism.

    Black Milwaukee should never except help from conservatives or Republicans. Only a dagger on the back.

  7. Terry says:

    Capitalism doesn’t create inequality. It requires it to exist.

    Dump Walker 2018

  8. TransitRider says:

    geoffreyskoll, do you have a source for your claim that labor force participation rates and payroll-to-population ratios are essentially the same as in the 1930s?

    I can’t imagine that could be true because very few married women sought or took employment back then. It was very unusual for both husband and wife to hold jobs before the end of World War II.

  9. Troll says:

    Jake, curious what you mean by black Milwaukee should never take “help” from white conservatives. Is help, Walker finding away to get 10,000 jobs (Foxconn)for southeast Wisconsin. Even one of the lone Democratic assembly votes (Jason Fields) an African American from Milwaukee knowing this was an opportunity for his constituents. The alternative is the Democratic route. Teachers first(needs), other public employees second and to the other subjects we provide food stamps and other public assistance.

  10. Terry says:

    @Russian Troll, giving away 4.5 billion of our tax dollars in Corporate Welfare to a FoxCON, a foreign company, isn’t helping or benefiting anyone except FoxCON. Why? Because for every crappy government subsidized “job” at FoxCON it costs taxpayers $230,000.00 PER JOB! That money is coming right out of all of our pockets.

    Dump Walker
    Dump FoxCON
    Legalize cannabis

  11. S my says:

    There are two solutions to the black unemployment problem in the city of Milwaukee the first solution is to generate the revenue needed to create jobs that expand the black employment base the black employment base can be expanded bye increasing the quantum phase velocities of cost and revenue curves for existing and expanded future black businesses this will generate the revenue needed to make the businesses and their employees self-sustaining it is not reasonable to think that mainstream of Milwaukee will open the doors easily to provide equal employment opportunities even though the laws are on the books since the de jour Solutions do not prevent defacto discrimination the Practical solution is to establish economic multiplier and accelerator coefficients that Target black to create job growth once these economic opportunities are made manifest black will no longer have to stand outside with cups hoping that conscience of a few liberal-minded people will give them the opportunity for gainful employment that they deserve as being American citizens since the Discrimination laws have failed to level the playing field the time is now to generate the revenue needed to establish and maintain black job growth by stretching the curvature of price performance space-time with electromagnetic energy to create and sustain more jobs by accelerating the quantum phase velocities of photons and graviton in price performance systems this will put nails in the coffin of discriminatory hiring practices

  12. Eric Wohner says:

    Hi Jake (#6 above),

    When was the last time a Republican or a Conservative ran either the city or the county of Milwaukee? If you like the quality of life that there leadership has provided you, then by all means that keep voting for them. However, Malcolm X labels folks that vote and think like you, political “Chumps.” I agreed with him, and that is why this black man left the Democratic party. I encourage you to listen to his speech on YouTube.

  13. geoffreyskoll says:

    To Transit Rider:
    Check BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) for data. At the height of the Great Depression real unemployment was about 30% which is what it is today. There were plenty of women who worked before WWII, but of course many of them didn’t ‘count’ because they were domestics. And by the way, a disproportionate number of domestics were non-White. Data like that implied in this article cannot be gleaned from easy-access sources. To find out the real story requires some scholarship. Work is a feminist issue. ‘Employment’ is patriarchal, capitalist, and White supremacist.

  14. Eric Wohner says:

    To G.skoll,

    Demonizing white people with terms like, “patriarchal, capitalist, and White supremacist, ” will not change your world for the better. You sound like you’ve been brainwashed into seeing the world as it is not. Wirld history, and the human behavior that shapes it, is far more complicated than the mere formula that you cited above. Ask yourself the following:

    We’re the Ashanti and Hausa “White supremacist “when they sold the Yoruba (and many other tribal groups) into slavery?

    Was Pol Pot a capitalist when he murdered 1/4 of the Cambodian people in the name of socialism? (let’s not mention what the Chinese, German, and Russian communist did to their own people in the name of social justice).

    Were the Muslim Turks racists when they killed over 1,000,000 Armenians?

    Were the Japanese White supremacist when they raped and murdered 200,000 in Nanking? (Not to mention their enslavement of the Chinese, the Philippine, and Korean people?

    Was Orlando Paterson an Uncle Tom that was being used by the racist, capitalist when he wrote on 11/16/1997, that by all objective measures “Racism is not the Issue” (see the NYT, 11/16/1997, OP ED, by this same title).

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