Michigan workers were hit hard by the Great Recession but the state’s African American workers continue to suffer a far higher unemployment rate, a new Economic Policy Institute Issue Brief finds, with Michigan’s black unemployment rate the highest among the 24 states where it can be measured.
In Ongoing Joblessness in Michigan: Unemployment rate for African Americans tops in nation, more than double the state’s white rate, EPI researchers Douglas Hall and Mary Gable find that the African American unemployment rate in Michigan reached 18.7 percent—nearly one in five of the state’s black workers—in the fourth quarter of 2012, about two-and-a-half times that of the white unemployment rate of 7.5 percent.
The black unemployment rate in Michigan was 4.7 percentage points higher than the national black unemployment rate of 14 percent and ranked highest among the 24 states with large enough black populations to measure unemployment. Michigan’s white unemployment rate was ninth highest in the nation.
“This is an alarming trend that highlights the growing inequity in our state,’’ said Michigan League for Public Policy President & CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs. “For Michigan to recover from the very long recession we’ve suffered, we need an economy that works for all. Policymakers must address this tremendous disparity.’’
Black unemployment is concentrated in urban areas with very high unemployment rates and few job opportunities. In such a job environment, it is difficult to find work. In 2012, 46.5% of unemployed black workers were unemployed for more than 26 weeks—much higher than the share of white unemployed workers (41.6%) who are long-term unemployed. In 2011, the Michigan Legislature cut the weeks of available Unemployment Insurance from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, causing hardship for many unemployed black workers as they continue to look for work.
“Until our state recovers, the Michigan Legislature needs to restore the traditional period of unemployment benefits back to 26 weeks,’’ Jacobs said.
Another reason for Michigan’s high black unemployment rate is that in the Detroit area many of the available jobs are in suburbs that are inaccessible by public transportation to Detroit residents. Michigan needs to continue to develop a regional public transportation system in Southeast Michigan that can help connect workers with jobs.
The report also finds that Michigan’s white workers suffered during the recession with nearly three straight years (from the first quarter of 2009 through the third quarter of 2011) on unemployment at 9 percent or higher. Only Nevada had a longer stretch of white unemployment over 9 percent.
The report concludes that Michigan’s recovery, spurred by the successful bailout of the auto industry, has been impressive, yet one in five black workers remain unemployed.
“Michigan’s economy has been down a rough road for everybody,’’ said Doug Hall, the report’s coauthor, “but what this study shows is that far more black workers have been left on the side of the highway.’’