The PJ Tatler

How Much Worse Off are Blacks Under Obama?

I was reading some story recently about some politicized topic. Of course, campaigners know that politicizing everything is a great way to separate the People from their money, Constitutional rights, and power. So the particular topic of that discussion wasn’t as important as the rhetoric espoused by a die-hard Obama supporter that “blacks are better off under Obama.”

Superficially, makes sense, right? America’s first black president is taking care of what his Attorney General would call “his people.” But when politics gets involved, truth is often somewhat different.

One way to determine if blacks are better off is to examine employment rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has tracked unemployment rates since 1954, but for today’s discussion 1990 offers a reasonable starting point. How have blacks have fared in the recent employment market, and has it improved compared to the Bush years? As the following graph shows, the answer is “no.” Blacks consistently trail whites in employment. (While this excludes those able to work who’ve dropped out of the labor force, at least it provides consistent criteria to compare black and white unemployment. Participation rates are a topic for another column.)

One key takeaway here is the green data series—showing the difference between white and black unemployment—showing a flat trend: through the last three administrations, blacks averaged 5.8% higher unemployment than whites, neither improving nor worsening over time. Under Clinton, that average was 5.5%; under Bush, 5.0%; under Obama, 6.9%. Despite the fact that whites also experienced relatively high unemployment under Obama, blacks have suffered higher unemployment relative to whites, and are experiencing the highest unemployment rates since Clinton took office. By this metric, blacks are worse off under Obama.

1-02What’s wrong with the ‘blame Bush’ gambit

Some may claim the consequences of Bush’s economic policies have finally manifested, and that the recent 3-year decline in black unemployment rates shows that Obama’s policies are fixing Bush’s mess. Superficially, this is a plausible argument. The economy is more similar to a supertanker than a speed boat, the former requiring miles to turn around: Policy consequences may not manifest immediately.

But if that’s true, one could use the same logic to blame Clinton. The graph below shows that unemployment increased the year Bush took office (2001). It rose during Bush’s last year (2008), but increased more dramatically during Obama’s first year in office (2009). If unemployment rose after the new president took office, why not apply this simplistic logic to blame the current president rather than the last?

1-7Why not praise Bush, because unemployment rose for three years after 9/11 damaged our economy, and then declined his next three years? And let’s remember that there was a Democrat Congress during Bush’s last two years, when unemployment began to rise. Since the House is responsible for the budget—with its considerable economic impact—we might spread the blame around. On that note, why not credit the Republican Congress during Clinton for the consistent unemployment decline?

For those wanting to blame the previous president for today’s economy, at some point, especially during a president’s second term, it’s reasonable to stop blaming their predecessor and start taking responsibility.

And if you insist on making employment another in a long line of alleged racist issues, the White House’s current resident provides a lesson in watching the results rather than the teleprompter.