President Trump was right last month when he bragged that black unemployment rate was at a historical low. The rate in December was 6.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 1972 (though it ticked back up nearly a percentage point last month).
But the president’s statement excluded some important context about the historic movement of this rate by race and ethnicity. I’ve tried to explain in these graphics.
First, here are four rates — all groups, black, Hispanic and white — since Ronald Reagan was in office. The early 1980s, as you can see, were pretty rough. Things have gotten better, both in terms of the rate during recessions and recoveries, and all groups have improved together as a pattern since the Great Recession:
Whether you believe a president can have any short-term effect on unemployment or not, a key point is that these rates rise and fall together. They are quite strongly correlated. In about 90 percent of the months since 1980, for example, a relationship existed between movement in the white and black rates. This correlation is slightly less strong under Democratic presidents, for whatever reason:
Even though the black rate is relatively low today, it has historically been about 2-2.5 times higher than the white rate.
Image courtesy Wikimedia/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
I posted recently about how the state-by-state unemployment rate has changed during my lifetime. The result was a small multiples grid that put the states in context with one another.
Today I’ve created a new version aimed at identifying more precisely how each state has differed from the national unemployment rate during the last four decades. The lines show the percentage point difference — above (worst) or below (better) — from the national rate.
This view allows us easily to identify the most anomalous states in both directions (West Virginia, for example, had quite an unemployment spike during the 1980s; South Dakota, on the other hand, has never been worse than the national rate).
There’s plenty more to explore in this quick remix:
There’s good news this week in the monthly jobs report, the latest sign that the economy, however grudgingly, has healed from the financial crisis nine years ago:
The unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent, the Labor Department said, from 4.9 percent. The last time it was this low was August 2007. That was the month, you may recall, when global money markets first froze up because of losses on United States mortgage-related bonds: early tremors of what would become a recession four months later and a global financial crisis nine months after that.
These things, of course, are cyclical. Here’s how the unemployment rate has changed, by state, during my lifetime:
The Wall Street Journalposted an interactive heat map to visualize the unemployment rate nationally over time. The backstory from the latest numbers:
Under the government’s definitions, people only count as unemployed when they’re actively looking for work. So when the unemployment rate drops, it could mean that unemployed people found jobs, or it could mean that they gave up looking for work. The employment-population ratio, which measures how many people are actually working, is harder to fool.
Today’s jobs report carries good news on both fronts. The unemployment rate fell, and the employment-population ratio rose. That means the improvement in the labor market is real — people actually found jobs.
Amanda Cox from The New York Timescharted the current downturn compared with history:
Horizontal axis shows months. Vertical axis shows the ratio of that month’s nonfarm payrolls to the nonfarm payrolls at the start of recession. Note: Because employment is a lagging indicator, the dates for these employment trends are not exactly synchronized with National Bureau of Economic Research’s official business cycle dates.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported this week that employers in December conducted roughly 1,380 “mass layoffs,” incidents in which more than 50 workers lose their jobs. That happened to about 145,000 Americans last month, according to new filings for unemployment benefits.
That figure seems high, but compare it to February 2009, the height of the recession. Back then more than twice as many mass layoffs occurred, affecting 326,000 employees — including 145,000 in the manufacturing sector alone.
This quick chart, made with Google Docs, shows how these incidents have slowly declined over the months since (see larger, interactive version):
This chart shows how such incidents spiked in 2001 and 2009 — years in which the U.S. economy struggled (see larger, interactive version):
On the presidential campaign trail, Gov. Rick Perry is touting the Texas’ relatively low unemployment rate. Here’s how the rate has changed during his decade in office. It wasn’t until 2007 that Texas’ jobs picture looked better than the country as a whole:
Nationally, the unemployment rate fell less than one percentage point from April 2010 to April 2011. But not all areas of the country are the same.
This map, made with ArcGIS, shows all 3,100 U.S. counties, with darker green shades representing counties that saw their unemployment rates decrease over the year. Darker reds represent higher unemployment rates during that time.
It appears that Nevada and Michigan had counties that improved the most (of course, they had the most room for improvement). Idaho and Louisiana have seen their respective rates increase in many counties: