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‘Black jobs’? Trump draws pushback after anti-immigration rant

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‘Black jobs’? Trump draws pushback after anti-immigration rant

What exactly are “Black jobs” — and are they really at risk from the recent surge of immigrants?

“They’re taking Black jobs now and it could be 18, it could be 19 and even 20 million people,” former President Donald Trump said in the debate Thursday about the role immigrants play in the U.S. economy. “They’re taking Black jobs, and they’re taking Hispanic jobs, and you haven’t seen it yet, but you’re going to see something that’s going to be the worst in our history.”

The available data, however, doesn’t indicate that immigrants are filling roles en masse that would otherwise go to American citizens.

And as Derrick Johnson, CEO of the NAACP, pointed out, “There’s no such thing as a Black job or a white job.”

“They’re hardworking Americans who are seeking to have quality jobs, and that should be the goal of this conversation,” he told NBC News. This election cycle when researchers have found Black voters are being heavily targeted by political disinformation  it is crucial to not turn “communities against one another,” Johnson said.

Former President Donald Trump attends the first presidential debate
Some debate-watchers criticized the CNN moderators for not pushing back against some of Trump’s remarks. Marco Bello / Reuters

It’s true that Black workers have historically been overrepresented in certain sectors like government and home health care. But Black Americans occupy all rungs of employment, including leadership positions: Eight Fortune 500 companies, an all-time high, are currently run by Black executives, though that rate is far below Black Americans’ 14.4% share of the population.

Data shows that Black workers have seen gains during both the Biden and Trump administrations. Under Trump, the unemployment rate for the group fell to 5.3% in September 2019 — a record low at the time. It dropped even further under President Joe Biden, to a new low of 4.8% in April 2023.

Today, as the broader U.S. labor market has slowed, Black unemployment has crept up to 6.1% along with the national rate, which has climbed from a low of 3.4% in January 2023 to 4%. But the employment situation for Black workers remains generally favorable.

Another measure of job-market health, the laborforce participation rate, has also improved among Black workers under Biden, with 64% of the U.S. Black population in the workforce (employed and unemployed but seeking work), compared with a peak of 63.2% under Trump.

As the overall economy has slowed, the rate has slipped back to 62.9% — about where it stood for the better part of the Trump administration.

The all-time labor-force participation record for Black workers — as well as all U.S. workers came during the Clinton years and has declined since then, largely thanks to baby boomer retirements.

In May, the White House released a report showing the gains Black workers have made in the past three years, concluding that the robust overall labor market “has benefited the middle and working classes, especially Black Americans.”

As debate-watchers digested Trump’s remarks, some voiced confusion and criticized the moderators for not pushing back. Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joked in a post on X: “I have a law degree. Does that get me a #blackjob?”

Cherron Perry-Thomas, a Pennsylvania voter watching the debate in a focus group with NBC News, said Trump has a “very limited vocabulary” when discussing Black workers. “We’re very diverse people.”

Another Black Pennsylvanian, who spoke to NBC News anonymously to share his thoughts freely, said he would likely back Biden but found himself “disgusted by the way both of them speak about the Black community.”

“In fairness, Trump did positive things for the Black community and he’s strategic enough to appeal to Black voters now,” he said, but added that he felt Biden’s record is stronger.

Recent improvements in Black workers’ fortunes haven’t been uniform. For instance, they are more likely to be union members than any other racial or ethnic group. Yet despite Biden’s longtime support for organized labor, union membership rates have fallen during his administration to a record low of 10%, down from 10.8% in 2020.

When it comes to pay, inflation-adjusted weekly earnings for Black workers reached a two-decade high of $314 under Trump. That was narrowly surpassed in the fourth quarter of 2023 under Biden, hitting $315. But amid persistent inflation and a cooling job market, Black workers’ average weekly earnings declined in the most recent quarter to $293.

As for whether immigrants are “taking” native-born workers’ jobs in general, the data suggest they aren’t. The Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that the unemployment rate for U.S.-born citizens remains near all-time lows: 3.8% in May, lower than the nation’s 4% unemployment rate overall. It’s unlikely that native workers’ unemployment would be so low if they were being crowded out by immigrants.

While Trump may have been pointing to Black workers’ overrepresentation in lower-wage roles, newly arrived immigrants tend to be employed in fields — like construction, food service and agriculture — that would likely go unfilled by native-born workers, whatever their race, experts say.

“It is clear the labor market is both absorbing immigrants and generating strong job opportunities for U.S.-born workers, including those in demographic groups potentially most impacted by immigration,” the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, said earlier this year.

Seth Anderson-Oberman, another Pennsylvania voter who watched the debate, found the jobs discussion off-putting.

He decried “the constant use of division to try to pit people against each other — Black and brown folk, immigrants, people who are struggling to be able to take care of themselves and their families — pitting us against each other.”

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