In what should surprise absolutely no one who has followed U.S. politics in the past two years, the President of the United States is once more engaged in a Twitter feud with a celebrity. This time, it’s rapper Jay-Z who President Donald Trump has gone to Twitter war against.
The Trump Jay-Z tweet that set the whole thing off was a response from the president after Jay-Z criticized him on CNN’s The Van Jones Show. On the program, the host and the artist discussed the black unemployment rate in the country. Trump has claimed, at various times, credit for the reduction in black unemployment, but Jay-Z was unwilling to support him in that claim.
A point worth mentioning is that, even with an increased black employment rate, a racial disparity still exists when compared to the white employment rate. Although progress has been made over the years, there’s still a long way to go toward achieving racial equality.
“It’s not about money at the end of the day. Money doesn’t equate to happiness, that’s missing the whole point,” said Jay-Z in the segment. “Treat people like human beings, that’s the main point. It goes back to the whole thing, ‘Treat me really bad and pay me well.’ It’s not gonna lead to happiness.”
Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 28, 2018
Jay-Z also responded to the “shithole country” remark that Trump notoriously made in front of several staffers and senators during an immigration meeting. Jay-Z characterized that comment as “disappointing and hurtful.”
“Somewhere along his lineage something happened to him,” said Jay-Z. “Something happened to him, and he is expressing it in this sort of way.”
Trump Not Responsible for Decline in Black Unemployment Rate
The Trump Jay-Z tweet was only one among a long string of outbursts from the president touting the new 6.8% African-American unemployment rate. While this is the lowest rate ever measured for black people in the U.S. going back about 45 years, the number is only good in relative terms, not empirical ones.
Consider that, across all races, the unemployment rate sits at 4.1%. For whites, it’s at 3.7%. For Hispanics, its 4.9%. So, while the black unemployment rate falling below seven percent is indeed progress, it still means that blacks are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as whites in America.
But there’s is still sense in celebrating the progress made. After all, while 6.8% is not even close to ideal, it is a far sight better than the 16.7% unemployment rate among black Americans in August 2011, following the worst hits of the recession.
The African American unemployment rate fell to 6.8%, the lowest rate in 45 years. I am so happy about this News! And, in the Washington Post (of all places), headline states, “Trumps first year jobs numbers were very, very good.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2018
However, it’s not as if Trump entered office and reduced the rate from double-digits down to its lowest historical record. In fact, quite the opposite. By the time Trump was inaugurated, black unemployment was down to 7.8%, after declining for years.
Many point to policies put in place under the Barack Obama administration, especially the low interest rates maintained by the Federal Reserve, as the main causes for the increased employment numbers.
The Trump Jay-Z tweet feud, then, is a rather shallow fight, all things considered.
There are many other factors that one must consider when looking at the unemployment rate in the U.S., from how many people have officially dropped out of the workforce to the impact of the disproportionate incarceration rate of black Americans.
The Economic Policy Institute released a study a few years ago which found that unemployed black Americans were less likely to quit searching for a job, compared to whites and other groups. This could account for some of the racial disparity in the official unemployment figures.
Another complicating factor is that education levels differ among races, but even higher-educated blacks have, at times, faced unemployment levels similar to those of less-educated white people.
Furthermore, developments in automation may undo some of the gains made by black people over the years.
What the Trump Jay-Z tweets won’t show you is just how complex unemployment can be to examine, especially when adding race into the mix. It’s nearly impossible to point to a single policy or action that has made a huge dent in the unemployment rate.
Trump claiming credit for the historically low rate, therefore, is at the very least misleading, and doesn’t factor in that Barack Obama played a hand in the unemployment decline as well.
“Jay-Z Receives Fiery Donald Trump Tweet Following Comments About African-American Unemployment,” Vulture, January 28, 2018.
“Trump says he deserves credit for the lowest black unemployment rate in decades. He doesn’t.” Vox, January 18, 2018.
Resilience of Black Labor Force Participation,” Economic Policy Institute, May 14, 2014.
“Don’t Thank Trump for the Record-Low Black Unemployment Rate,” Black Enterprise, January 8, 2018.