There is plenty to unpack in President Trump’s first State of the Union address so I will leave the majority of the fact-checking and post-game chatter to the political experts. (Enjoy Fortune’s four-minute version here.)
But I’ll touch on one point since it’s been raised by the President repeatedly in the days leading up to his well-executed speech: The issue of black unemployment in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is now at a record low of 6.8 percent. Of course, this is some sort of good news.
On numerous occasions, the president has sought to highlight this figure as a personal accomplishment, even going so far as to publicly pick a fight with Jay-Z after comments the mogul made on CNN discussing the cognitive dissonance of being led by a man who calls certain countries “shitholes,” and yet sits atop a beneficial economy. “Money doesn’t equate to happiness. It doesn’t. That’s missing the whole point,” Jay-Z said. The president, who habitually spars with black critics, tweeted, “Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!”
Let’s discuss. Back in June, the gap between black and white unemployment first shrunk to its lowest rate since 2000, and the January employment summary from the BLS showed even greater improvement. Today, the overall unemployment rate is 4.1 percent and breaks down as follows: Asians at 2.5 percent, whites at 3.7 percent, and 4.9 percent for Hispanics. That black unemployment has finally dipped below 7 percent and is no longer quite twice that of whites is, in fact, something.
But as even armchair economists know, these developments have been a long time coming. The black unemployment rate has been on the decline since 2011 when it hit a post-recession high of 16.7 percent. And according to Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, low interest rates thanks to the Federal Reserve have had a lot to do with keeping the economy on track and unemployment down. “Trump has had nothing to do with the decline in African-American jobless rates, or any other group’s rates,” he told Vox by email.
While a steadily growing economy has helped everyone, specific improvements in job markets in metropolitan areas like Chicago, Cleveland and Baltimore have been a boon to black job seekers. And the types of jobs matter. Black workers have historically been less likely to be found in waning industries like manufacturing, farming and fishing. Instead, they are preparing for and being hired into transportation, nursing and home health care jobs—sectors that come with a different set of issues but are more likely to remain stable.
Politicians point to numbers on a chart and declare “mission accomplished” all the time. But Trump’s insistence on taking credit for this number is particularly galling. While his policies may not yet have had an impact on black unemployment, his words and deeds certainly have had an impact on black and brown lives. There are numerous examples to choose from, starting with his ugly “shithole countries” remark and working backwards to his sweeping indictments of Hispanic people as murderers and rapists, the Muslim travel ban, his public attacks on black social justice movements, and his refusal to disavow the white supremacists who campaigned for him and still support him today.
And that’s just lately.
According to a Pew survey, some six in ten Americans say that Trump’s election has made race relations worse. When you consider our fraught history, this really is an accomplishment.
The employment number aside, the constellation of issues affecting the economic lives of black and brown people remain unaddressed: The huge disparities in household wealth that college educations and two-parent households don’t remedy; that black and brown borrowers are routinely denied access to affordable home loans; that black and brown people continue to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and removed from the job market altogether. And schools? Still separate and unequal. These are problems of presidential proportions which undermine any positive trend. And stoking white resentment isn’t going to fix them.
The president comes from a world where throwing money around feels like success. It’s the way he keeps score. But Shawn Carter, a truly self-made businessperson, sounded fully informed when he said the president is missing the point. People are in real pain, going through real things, he Jaysplained. “Money doesn’t equate to happiness. You treat people like human beings. You treat me really bad and pay me well: It’s not going to lead to happiness. … Everyone is going to be sick.”
|Janet Yellen steps down|
|You don’t have to understand how interest rate policy works to appreciate this send-off from Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip. A persuasive and serious leader, Yellen fundamentally changed the Fed’s hive mind on how to think about interest rates over the long term, and Ip suggests that Yellen should be remembered fondly for her commitment to steady growth and keeping unemployment low. Excellent fodder for your fact-based, post-SOTU conversations today.|
|Wall Street Journal|
|Where does diversity drive financial performance?|
|We are entering a new era of diversity data, and so far, it’s pretty exciting. A new survey led by researchers from the Boston Consulting Group sought to measure the correlation between diversity and innovation, using revenues from new products issued in the last three years as a proxy for innovation success. The survey included 1,700 companies in eight countries — the U.S., France, Germany, China, Brazil, India, Switzerland, and Austria. In all countries, the researchers found a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation, with the most diverse companies reporting 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher EBIT margins, on average. And that’s not even the best news. Enjoy and share.|
|The reviews are in: Black Panther is already a hit|
|Marvel’s Black Panther, which debuts in February, has thrilled early premiere goers with its, well, I don’t know exactly. (Here are some amazing, spoiler-free exclamations of joy.) But Brian Truitt of USA Today says the film is poised to smash through pop culture barriers, not even a year after Wonder Woman proved the strength of women-led fare at the box office. Black Panther had the best first-day presales of any Marvel movie on the ticket site Fandango.com, and community groups are busily raising funds to take every kid they can find to the show. The film is poised to change entertainment, at least in the short term. Says Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association, “It’s a gate-opener opportunity for other black-centered projects.”|
|A museum devoted to Native American history finds its groove by telling the truth|
|The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian has struggled to find an audience since 2004. But culture writer Philip Kennicott believes their newest exhibit, which examines how images of native peoples are a fundamental part of American commerce and culture, will change that. You won’t find old arrowheads lying around. Instead, “They are going to address difficult questions with nuance and courage,” he says. It begins with an oversized gallery filled with objects covered with “Indian” images — food products, sports logos, magazines, advertisements. It’s an overwhelming and bizarrely American practice, as no other settler colonialist system has taken images of the displaced culture and embraced them as a central part of their own identity. If the exhibit is as jarring as this review, then Kennicott is right. It’s also a guidepost for any marketer who wants to make an important point.|
The Woke Leader
|How the Sundance Film Festival learned to embrace creators of color|
|Brickson Diamond runs Blackhouse, a foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for black visual artists, and has become a Sundance stalwart over the last decade. But 2018 was a banner year in his efforts to make the indie festival more inclusive. Some 39 black films were presented this year, a record number since the festival was founded in 1978. Click through for this rollicking profile of Diamond, who was smitten with the idea of elevating black filmmakers when he attended a screening of Hustle and Flow in 2005. Blackhouse was launched two years later, and so was he quest to integrate the largest independent film festival. “We were real generous: black director, black subject matter or black star lead — so if Danny Glover’s in a movie, we counted it.”|
|A newly available slave narrative offers extraordinary insights into a terrible practice|
|The manuscript was written in 1897 by Julia C. Ferris, a white teacher and education advocate, and narrates many of the experiences of an enslaved woman named Jane Clark, who managed to escape from Maryland to Auburn, NY in 1859. Experts are thrilled with the discovery, as it provides rich details on the day-to-day lives of enslaved people. Clark was born in 1822, sold in payment of a debt when she was eight, where she was mistreated and abused. By 1856, she became “determined to escape or die in the attempt.” From there, the story becomes cinematic. Clark hid in a Maryland cabin, used forged passes to travel to Washington, D.C where she witnessed the inauguration of James Buchanan and passed herself off as a freed woman before she managed to make her way up North. Click through for interesting tidbits on the history of slave narratives and the mixed legacy of Auburn, NY.|
|How the other half lived|
|When Jacob August Riis immigrated from Denmark to New York City in 1870, he had nothing but the clothes on his back and a dream of a better life. Just twenty years later, as a ground-breaking photojournalist, his photos documenting the wrenching slums that immigrants lived in got the attention of then-police commissioner Teddy Roosevelt and helped change public policy. His pictures can still provide a shock.|