By Ellen McGirt
Updated: January 31, 2018 2:42 PM ET

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.”


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