The monthly unemployment rate undercounts jobless Black men, but even with the undercount, Black men have consistently had the highest annual unemployment rate for the last 20 years. A new report, released Wednesday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), assesses three major factors that contribute to the undercount of jobless Black men, and calculates the full cost that joblessness has on Black communities and the US economy in general.
“Because we typically assess joblessness among Black men based on the unemployment rate, we grossly underestimate the problem of joblessness for Black men, the harm it causes to Black communities, and the need for bold policy interventions,” says author Algernon Austin, CEPR’s Director of Race and Economic Justice.
The Jobs Crisis for Black Men is a Lot Worse Than You Think reveals the job gap for Black men found between two official jobless measures, the unemployment rate and the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP). The white-Black EPOP jobs gap is about three times the unemployment rate jobs gap during a period of moderately high unemployment.
However, this report further reveals how prime-age Black men differ from other groups. A problem with the official labor market statistics is that they do not include the Black men who are incarcerated or allow for the economic impact of higher mortality rates among Black men. The criminal justice system has racial and class biases that lead to higher rates of incarceration for Black males. Because of structural inequalities that affect health outcomes, Black males have a higher mortality rate than white males. Incarceration and mortality both significantly reduce the Black male labor force and are hidden factors which deprive Black communities of Black men’s potential incomes.
Dr. Austin observes, “It is important that the jobs gap be understood not just for its impact on the jobless Black men but also for its impact on Black families and communities.”
The full cost of Black men’s joblessness is about $50 billion a year, when considering that the official statistics undercount Black men’s joblessness.
Closing just the EPOP jobs gap would add about $30 billion annually to Black communities and make a significant reduction in Black poverty.
“Now that we know the crisis is three times worse than we think it is—or four times worse, if we factor in incarceration and mortality—maybe policymakers will be spurred to act,” said Austin.