Here’s some good – and generally overlooked – news about the U.S. economy: Among major ethnic and racial groups, African-Americans scored the biggest job advances in 2015. This conclusion comes from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning think tank and advocacy group. It reports that black Americans made “notable employment gains … even as employment growth for whites and Hispanics slowed.”
EPI cites a statistic called the “employment-to-population ratio,” which is the share of adults who have a job. In 2015, that increased 1.5 percentage points for blacks compared with a 0.1 percentage point increase for whites and a slight decline for Hispanics. Put differently: In December, 56.4 percent of blacks had a job compared with 54.9 percent a year earlier. (Note: Those without jobs include both people who want work – the unemployed – and those who don’t: for instance, many retirees and students.)
The point can be made more easily with conventional employment and unemployment figures. Consider:
▪ Although blacks represent only an eighth of the labor force – people who have or want a job – they accounted for nearly a third of the jobs created in 2015, or 774,000 out of 2.49 million.
Of course, these last figures highlight the bad news in the good news. Black unemployment remains appallingly high, and, despite recent gains, the black employment-to-population ratio (56.4 percent in December) remains lower than those for whites (59.9 percent), Hispanics (61.4 percent) and Asians (60.5 percent).
Black unemployment is receding more rapidly now, because it starts from a much higher base and because earlier job gains have sharply reduced unemployment among whites, Hispanics and Asians.
As EPI puts it: “African-American workers are often hardest hit during a recession and do not fully recover without robust job growth that significantly reduces the national unemployment.”
The policy implications, EPI argues, are clear: The Federal Reserve needs to maintain its easy-money bias until “all groups” benefit fully from the recovery.
Robert J. Samuelson is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.