CORONAVIRUS

GOP Senator Touts Low Black Unemployment As Black Unemployment Hits 10-Year Peak

Sen. David Perdue of Georgia ignores the devastating impact of COVID-19 on joblessness among Blacks

Amid an economic crisis spurred by the coronavirus pandemic that’s disproportionately hit Black and brown Americans, as hundreds of thousands of Americans march in the streets to protest racism, the Republican message to the public remains that President Donald Trump has done more for the economy ― and specifically for Blacks ― than any other president in recent history.

As a guest on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s talk radio show this week, Georgia GOP Sen. David Perdue, who is up for reelection this year, claimed Trump has done more for Black Americans than “any president in the last...100 years,” repeating some clear falsehoods.

“In the African American community we have the lowest unemployment in U.S. history right now —the highest middle-class income ever measured,” Perdue said, touting the Republican agenda “before COVID-19 and even in COVID-19.”  

“President Trump has done more through justice reform, HBCUs, which are our historic black colleges and universities, and our opportunity zones... has done more for that community than any president in the last decade — in the last 100 years, really.”

Perdue is repeating what has been one of Trump’s favorite talking points: that unemployment levels for Black Americans reached its lowest levels in U.S. history under his administration.

The Black unemployment rate hit 5.4% last August, the lowest figure under the measuring system the government has used since 1972. But, as The Washington Post detailed, Black unemployment was likely lower in the 1950s under the system then in use. Also, Black unemployment had been ticking up since last August.

More broadly, until the coronavirus pandemic began its spread in the U.S., the unemployment rate, across the board, had been in steady decline since 2011. The rate of decline hadn’t accelerated under Trump’s leadership.

But all of this was dramatically changed by the pandemic, which his administration was slow to react to and which into March Trump kept insisting would magically disappear (the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 2 million earlier this week).

Perdue’s talking points are now categorically untrue.

Between March and April, the unemployment rate for Black Americans shot up 10 percentage points, from 6.7% to 16.7%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In May, it hovered just shy of 17% — the highest figure in the last decade.

The pandemic has ravaged Black and brown communities in almost every respect. 

Nationwide, Black Americans are dying at nearly two times the rate of their share of the population, and are losing jobs at a higher rate than white workers. Black-owned businesses are also being forced to shut down at a higher rate, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research report.

These trends underscore persistent systemic inequalities that the Trump administration has done little to ameliorate — and in some cases has worsened, as in health care. Black Americans on average are more likely to be uninsured, and have underlying chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and asthma. They also are disproportionately represented in “essential” front-line jobs that put them at great risk of contracting COVID-19.

Trump himself has acknowledged the disparity: in April he said at a press briefing that Black Americans were “getting hit very, very hard.”

“This is a real problem and it is showing up very strongly in our data on the African-American community,” Trump said then.

But then in a June tweet, he focused on a positive picture that is now out-of-date.

Perdue, who faces off in November against Democrat Jon Ossoff in one of the key races in the battle for Senate control between the two parties, repeated those talking points on Hewitt’s show almost verbatim.

Trump, for his part, has incited violence on protesters demonstrating for racial equality and against police brutality. He’s tweeted conspiracy theories about the demonstrations, celebrated law enforcement officers using excessive force on peaceful protesters, suggested those involved in lootings get shot, and described protesters as “THUGS.”

In an interview that aired Friday on Fox News, Trump continued to tout a record that virtually all historians dispute, saying, “I think I’ve done more for the black community than any other president, and let’s take a pass on Abraham Lincoln, because he did good.”

Even with the nod to Lincoln. Trump created confusion by adding, “Although it’s always questionable, you know, in other words, the end result.”

That prompted interviewer Harris Faulkner, who is Black, to note, “Well, we are free Mr. President.”

This story has been updated with Trump comments in a Fox News interview.

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