PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday September 2nd, 2015, 10:15am

Illinois African-American Jobless Rate Among The Nation's Highest

Illinois had the nation's fourth highest African-American jobless rate during the second quarter of 2015, shows a recent analysis of unemployment numbers. Progress Illinois takes a closer look at the data provided by the Economic Policy Institute.

The African-American unemployment rate in Illinois is improving, but it is still one of the highest in the nation, shows a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The jobless rate among African Americans in Illinois declined to 11.5 percent in the second quarter of 2015, which covered April through June. The rate ticked down from 12.5 percent during the first quarter of 2015.

To put that 11.5 percent in perspective, the statewide unemployment rate in Illinois was 6 percent during the second quarter of 2015. In that quarter, African Americans in Illinois had the highest jobless rate followed by Hispanics at 7.9 percent, Asians at 4.8 percent and whites at 4.6 percent, according to EPI's review.

Illinois is one of only eight states in which African-American unemployment rates were at or below pre-recession levels in the second quarter of 2015. The other states were Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas and Missouri.

But a closer look at the numbers shows that nearly all of those states had the highest African-American unemployment levels in the nation before the Great Recession hit.

For example, Illinois had an African-American jobless rate of 12.2 percent before the recession in the fourth quarter of 2007.

"African Americans are still unemployed at a higher rate than their white counterparts in almost every state," EPI economist Valerie Wilson, who conducted the unemployment analysis, said in a statement. "We need policies that look beyond simply reducing unemployment to pre-recession levels as an end goal."

EPI's analysis covered 23 states and the District of Columbia. Only two states, New Jersey and South Carolina, and the District of Columbia had higher African-American unemployments rates than Illinois in the second quarter of 2015.

Overall, the African-American unemployment rate was the highest in the District of Columbia, 14.2 percent, and the lowest in Tennessee, 6.9 percent. The rate was below 10 percent in 11 states examined by EPI.

Nationwide, the African-American unemployment rate dropped to 9.1 percent in July, the lowest level in seven years. Still, the jobless rate for African Americans remained about twice as high as the white unemployment rate of 4.6 percent.

EPI and the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) are at least two groups that say African Americans would benefit greatly in terms of employment and wage growth if the country were to achieve full employment. They have called on the Federal Reserve to pursue "genuine full employment" before raising short-term interest rates.

At some point this year, the Fed could begin to raise the rates, which were cut to near zero percent during the Great Recession to support the economy.

In a recent statement on the full employment issue, CPD's director of strategic research Connie Razza stressed that "Black America is still in the middle of a Great Recession."  

"When [Fed] Chair [Janet] Yellen and other Fed officials talk about raising interest rates in 2015, they are talking about intentionally slowing down the economy and job growth, which would make it harder for most Americans, and particularly Black workers, to find good paying jobs," she said. "The direct consequences of the Fed's projected interest rate hikes would harm millions of workers."

"Instead," Razza continued, "the Fed could continue to push toward a tight labor market, in which the number of people looking for work more closely matches the number of jobs available. A full-employment economy, as we saw in the late 1990s, shrinks racial inequity and will bring particular benefits to black workers, who are disproportionately unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, and endure more difficult scheduling circumstances in the workplace."

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