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RNC misses mark in saying black youth unemployment is up

The statement

"Over the past eight years, black youth unemployment is up."

Republican National Committee, Sept. 17 in an email

The ruling

This struck us as odd, because the overall unemployment rate has plunged from a high of 10 percent in October 2009 to 4.9 percent in August. Has African-American youth unemployment really moved in precisely the opposite direction as the nation as a whole?

We've heard talking points like this before, from Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump himself. Their veracity really depends on how they were phrased.

In this case, the RNC is cherry-picking and misinterpreting old research by the liberal Economic Policy Institute, specifically a chart that tracked the "high school graduates age 17-20 who are not enrolled in further schooling." According to the chart, the rate rose from 44.8 percent in January 2009 to 51.3 percent in March 2015.

But unemployment is not underemployment. "High school graduates age 17-20 who are not enrolled in further schooling" isn't the same thing as all black youths. And unemployment generally has declined since March 2015.

"I'm sure the RNC can cherry-pick an age group or an 'underemployment rate' definition for which the situation has worsened," said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution. But using the standard Bureau of Labor Statistics data, he said, the labor market situation for African-American youths "has improved since the president took office."

We looked at the unemployment rate over time for two groups of African-Americans — one broader (ages 16 to 24) and the other narrower (20 to 24). Both ranges would seem to fit the email's broad definition of "black youth."

What we found when we took the annual average black youth unemployment rate for ages 16 to 24 — the broader of the two age ranges we looked at — going back to 2009 is that African-American youth unemployment has been going down — not up — consistently since 2010 (Obama's second year in office) and is well below what it was in 2009 (his first year in office). To be precise, the average jobless rate for black youth fell from nearly 29 percent in 2009 to below 18 percent in 2016. That's a decline of more than one-third in the unemployment rate over the roughly eight-year period.

In fact, 2016 marks the lowest August rate on record since the statistics were first calculated in the early 1970s, said Jed Kolko, chief economist for the jobs site Indeed.

The pattern also holds for African-Americans ages 20 to 24.

Using this narrower age range, the average annual black youth unemployment rate fell from about 25 percent in 2009 to about 15 percent in 2016. So it fell by about two-fifths of its original level over eight years.

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at

RNC misses mark in saying black youth unemployment is up 09/22/16 [Last modified: Thursday, September 22, 2016 10:02pm]
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