PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday May 20th, 2016, 5:56pm

Illinois Has The Nation's Highest African-American Jobless Rate For Second Straight Quarter

New reports show a grim employment situation for African Americans living in Illinois.

For the second quarter in a row, Illinois has earned the troubling distinction of having the nation's highest African-American unemployment rate, shows a new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.

During the first quarter of 2016, covering January through March, the unemployment rate among black Illinoisans was 14.1 percent. That's up from 13.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2015, when Illinois also had the nation's worst African-American unemployment rate, according to the liberal think tank's report.

Illinois also tied with Washington for having the highest Hispanic unemployment rate, 7.8 percent, during the first quarter of 2016.

To put those figures in perspective, the statewide unemployment rate in Illinois was 6.4 percent during the first quarter of 2016. For whites and Asians in Illinois, their respective unemployment rates were 5 percent and 3.3 percent.

Compared with pre-recession levels, specifically the fourth quarter of 2007, Illinois unemployment rates are up 2.1 percentage points for Hispanics, 1.8 points for blacks, and 0.6 points for whites. The rate is down 0.2 points for Asians.

West Virginia, meanwhile, has had the nation's highest white unemployment rate for four consecutive quarters, with the latest figure at 6.6 percent.

"While overall national unemployment is down, it does not feel that way for many groups and in many states," EPI economist Valerie Wilson said in a statement. "It's easy to see why Americans are anxious about the economy, when you look at unemployment for African Americans in Illinois or white workers in West Virginia, for example."

EPI's analysis was not the only employment-related report out this week concerning African Americans in Illinois.

The National Urban League's 40th annual State of Black America report was released, showing the Chicago metro area near the bottom of the list when it comes to employment and income equality between blacks and whites.

Specifically, the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area ranked 65th out of 70 metro areas for black-white employment equality and 62nd out of 70 for black-white income equality.

The Chicago metro area's unemployment rate is 18.6 percent among African Americans and 5.8 percent among Caucasians, according to the report.

In the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin area, the median household income was $35,169 for blacks and $74,759 for whites, based on the most current figures from 2014.

With a score of 100 representing full equality with whites, the State of Black America report showed that the overall 2016 equality index for blacks nationwide is 72.2 percent, up slightly from the 2015 figure of 72 percent. The equality index takes into account economic, health, education, social justice and civic engagement factors.

"After 40 years, we should be up in arms that African Americans across the nation and, especially in Chicago, are still not equally employed nor equally compensated in comparison to our white counterparts," said Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner. "This urgent state of affairs clearly calls out the work that needs to be done to address these disparities."

Runner said the Chicago Urban League will soon be releasing a 10-year improvement plan targeting 19 Chicago communities that are considered to be a racially concentrated area of poverty. In these communities, such as Austin, Woodlawn, Englewood, West Pullman and others, over 40 percent of residents live in poverty, according to the Chicago Urban League.

The Nation Urban League, meanwhile, announced its push this week for a $1 trillion, multi-year plan to tackle the nation's persistent racial disparities. The proposal, called the "Main Street Marshall Plan: From Poverty To Shared Prosperity," calls for government investments over five years in various initiatives, including universal early childhood education; a $15 minimum federal minimum wage indexed to inflation; an urban infrastructure fund; expansion of summer youth, job training and other workforce programs; and a small- and micro-business finance plan focused on businesses owned by women and people of color, among other programs. 

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial detailed the Main Street Marshall Plan Tuesday.

"In the very first State of Black America report in 1976, then-president Vernon Jordan wrote, 'The urgency of the problems that grip the American people allow no time for delay or for half-way measures,'" he said. "Sadly, the problems he described 40 years ago continue to grip the American people, and it's long past time to meet them with full-measured urgency."

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