Despite Gains, Arizona Blacks Still Lag In Employment, Income

(Photo by Alachua County/Creative Commons)

By Philip Athey 

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump bragged this week that African American joblessness is at the lowest rate ever, but advocates and experts say there is still a long way to go from what one called “depression-type” black unemployment in Arizona.

Despite an improving employment picture, African Americans still lag the rest of the state on any number of economic measures. The 9 percent unemployment rate for 2017 was almost twice the state average of 4.7 percent, while black incomes were lower and poverty rates higher.

“People of color, if they are born into poverty, more than likely they all die in poverty,” said George Dean, president and CEO of the Phoenix Urban League.

Most minority groups in the state fared poorly on economic indicators, with Hispanics and Native Americans also trailing whites, Asians and the state as a whole.

But Trump was focused on the positive Tuesday during his first State of the Union address, when he claimed administration policies had the economy booming.

“Since the election we have created 2.4 million jobs … after years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages,” Trump said. He noted that unemployment claims were at a 45-year low, singling out black and Hispanic joblessness as being at the “lowest levels in history.”

The speech came on the eve of Black History Month and just days before new national jobless numbers,released Friday, showed upticks in unemployment for every group but whites in January. But that does not negate the gains of the past year, one expert said.

“The unemployment rate for African Americans is still well above that of the national average and other race groups, but that is not a reason to dismiss improvement,” said Rachel Greszler, a research fellow in economics, budget and entitlements at the Heritage Foundation, in a written statement.

“Progress takes time, and the fact that over 300,000 African Americans held jobs at end of 2017 that did not have jobs at the beginning 2017 is progress,” she said.

Bart Hobijn, an economics professor at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said Trump can’t take all the credit, noting that unemployment rates have been improving since 2014.

“This is nothing new,” Hobijn said.

“There’s still a big unemployment rate” for African Americans, he said. But “just like the rest of the country they are seeing improvements.”

-Cronkite News graphic by Philip Athey

Dean has an explanation for unemployment gap minority groups face.

“It has to be racism,” he said, charging Trump’s rhetoric with emboldening racists in the country. “With Trump being president, he has given the irate citizen the inspiration … to be as racist as they want to be.”

Dean said that focusing on unemployment is oversimplifying the situation, pointing to the high poverty rate and low-paying jobs in the black community.

“We are still the last hired and the first fired,” he said, at jobs that are not nearly as good as those filled by the rest of the population.

The median income for blacks in Arizona was $39,991 in 2016, compared to a statewide average of $51,340 that year, according to Census Bureau data. It said that 23.8 percent of African Americans in Arizona lived below the poverty line in 2016, well above the state average of 17.7 percent Arizonans in poverty.

Blacks made up a smaller portion of homeowners in the state, compared to their share of the overall state population, while whites were overrepresented, the Census data showed.

Dean thinks the best hope for improvement is through a strong black voting bloc in Arizona. With blacks making up 4 to 5 percent of the state population, they need “to turn out 80, 90 percent of the vote… if we take that 5 percent and vote as a bloc, we can make a difference.”

While much work needs to be done, Dean said he will never give up hope.

“Poverty has a devastating on the lives of people,” Dean said, but he is going to “keep fighting to change these sorts of things.”


  1. Lannon – I may well be older than you are – I was in the Augusta riots in 1969 as a young brand new Army trooper of 17 years old – fresh from life and living in Tucson my home town – from THS where black, yellow, red, brown and white were the school – transported into another world where the city was burning – the people were burning – I’ve been to the south again on many business trips – things have changed; but some are the same; the picture JD paints is a reality that exists, just as black lives matter killing cops for justice does. Is it all blacks – of course not – is it a statistically measurable effect and choice many in the black community make as their course of life – you must not be aware of or listen to some rap music from the street if you think this does not exist. I was the only white guy on the track in combat, others were black, one PR – bleed and want just like me… my Sgt from NYNY’s plan, get a cab and get over in NYNY if he made it home.. is it dragging down the race? Its dragging down the view of themselves and taking their brothers with them. That is indeed to bad – racism is not ‘one colored’ but a two way street. That is tearing apart the fabric of some cities. I don’t think I’d want to be black and living in Chicago. That is also ‘to bad’. So what is it about black?

  2. “The majority of the black community are allergic to education and work.” Really, JD? Do you not see the racist stereotype you are putting out? How the heck do YOU know “what a majority of the community want?”

    And BillyB — what it is “about black” might just be legitimate reactions to the kind of crap JD is putting out.

  3. Well let me see if I got this right. Jobs on top of jobs are available. However, education and training are needed to hold these jobs. The majority of the black community are allergic to education and work. Its easier to sell drugs and pick up a check and use your free phone to call your homies than it is to go to school and get up and go to work every day. Until this changes, noting in the urban ghetto will change. What a shame. But its what a majority of the community want.

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