While the African-American unemployment rate was below the national average for blacks (9.1 percent) in four states during the fourth quarter of 2015, the lowest black unemployment rate in the country (6.7 percent in Virginia) was the same as the highest white unemployment rate (6.7 percent in West Virginia) according to the latest analysis from EPI economist Valerie Wilson. Wilson uses a unique analysis of Current Population Survey data and Local Area Unemployment Statistics program data to update her quarterly estimate of state unemployment rates by race and ethnicity in over 20 states.
“We are starting to see unemployment rates in more states return to pre-recession levels for all groups. However, pre-recession unemployment rates for African Americans were as high as 10 and 12 percent in some states. We need significant improvement beyond those levels to reach a meaningful recovery for blacks,” said Wilson. “The best way to achieve this is for the Fed to hold off on any further interest rate increases.”
Because of a significant drop in the state’s black unemployment, New Jersey’s black-white unemployment gap was the smallest in the country in the fourth quarter of 2015: the black unemployment rate was 1.5 times the white rate, down from 2.1 times the white rate during the previous quarter. In the state with the lowest fourth-quarter black unemployment rate (6.7 percent in Virginia), the ratio was 2-to-1. Fifteen states had African American unemployment rates below 10 percent in the fourth quarter—in 10 of these states, the rate was lower than the fourth-quarter national average for African Americans (9.1 percent). The African American unemployment rate was highest in Illinois (13.1 percent).
In the third quarter of 2015, the Hispanic unemployment rate was highest in Massachusetts (11.9 percent) and lowest in the District of Columbia (2.9 percent) and North Carolina (4.5 percent). It was at or below pre-recession levels in five states: Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, and Washington. Washington, Florida, and Texas continue to have Hispanic unemployment rates that are lower than the national average among Hispanics (6.3 percent), a distinction they held before the Great Recession.
Other key findings include:
- In December 2015, African Americans had the highest national unemployment rate at 8.3 percent, followed by Latinos (6.3 percent), whites (4.5 percent), and Asians (4.0 percent).
- The white unemployment rate was lowest in South Dakota (1.5 percent) and highest in West Virginia (6.7 percent). West Virginia has had the highest white unemployment rate for three consecutive quarters.
- White unemployment remains most elevated above its pre-recession level in West Virginia—2.5 percentage points higher than in the fourth quarter of 2007.
- The Asian unemployment rate was lowest in Hawaii (2.5 percent) and highest in New York (4.3 percent).
- The black unemployment rate remains most elevated above its pre-recession level in Alabama (5.2 percentage points higher). Before the recession, the African American unemployment rate in Alabama was 5.3 percent—nearly half of what it is now.