Black unemployment rate hits a record low

Fed Chair grilled on black unemployment
Fed Chair grilled on black unemployment

The black unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in May — the lowest since the government started keeping track in 1972.

It's a notoriously volatile number, but the trend is clear: This economy is strong, and everyone is reaping the rewards.

"The jobs market is firing on all pistons. It is benefiting all workers," said Tony Bedikian, head of global markets at Citizens Bank. "There are more jobs to be had for all Americans."

As the overall unemployment rate continues to fall — the lowest since 2000 — it's also shrinking the gap between black and white unemployment. It is the narrowest on record.

Black unemployment dropped sharply last month, down from 6.6% in April. The gap between black and white unemployment shrank to 2.4 percentage points, the first time on record it's been less than 3 points.

The figures were part of a jobs report Friday that showed overall unemployment at 3.8%. That was a clear sign that the economy is strong — and that there are opportunities for just about everyone.

Unemployment for black Americans remains stubbornly higher than for white, Asian and Hispanic Americans. The unemployment rate is just 2.1% for Asian-Americans and 4.9% for people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity.

Jobs data for black Americans also tends to be statistically more volatile than for white Americans because of a smaller population size. Still, the unemployment trends for black Americans are undeniably improving.

Black unemployment has fallen faster than white unemployment in the past year. A year ago, the black unemployment rate was 7.6%. For white Americans, unemployment has dropped from 3.7% a year ago to 3.5% in May.

"There is nothing not to like about this jobs report. It was strong across the board," said Hank Smith, co-chief investment officer at Haverford Trust.

The black unemployment rate hit a post-Great Recession peak of 16.8% in March 2010. (The highest on record was 21.2% in January 1983.)

Since then, unemployment has dropped steadily for all Americans.

Related: Unemployment rate matches lowest point in half a century

It's still harder for young black Americans, and black men specifically, to find work.

The unemployment rate for black teens is 19.8%. Although that's down from 26.5% a year ago, it's still substantially higher than the 11.6% unemployment rate for white teens.

And the unemployment rate for black men over the age of 20 is 6.3%, compared with just 4.7% for black adult women and 3.2% for white men over the age of 20.

So black unemployment is going in the right direction. But there's a long way to go before the job market is equally good for black and white.

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