Unemployment down for African-American Kansans, but disparity remains

Emily Fetsch
Feb. 2, 2018

Statistics show fewer African-American Kansans were unemployed in 2015 than 2010. But the unemployment rate among African-Americans remains too high.

The Kansas Health Institute recently released a new resource, Chartbook: Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities in a Changing Kansas. The report featured several economic indicators disaggregated by race and ethnicity, which highlights how historical racism, coupled with structural barriers to opportunity, mean Kansans of color often have less economic stability. This blog post will explore the racial and ethnic disparities in the unemployment rate.

The KHI report compares unemployment rates between 2010 and 2015. The data shows unemployment among most racial groups in Kansans has been relatively static. However, Kansans of color remain more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. While 5 percent of white Kansans are unemployed, 8 percent of Hispanic Kansans are unemployed. Compared with white Kansans, American Indian/Alaska Native Kansans (13 percent), African-American Kansans (13 percent), and Kansans of two or more races (12 percent) are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than white Kansans. Even more staggering, at 17 percent, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Kansans are three times more likely to be unemployed.

While African-American Kansans remain disproportionately affected by unemployment, they are the only racial group in which unemployment substantially declined between 2010 and 2015. It’s not clear why the unemployment rate for African-American Kansans declined or why it remains higher than other parts of the state population.

It is possible that unemployment among African-American Kansans has not actually decreased substantially because the unemployment measure does not count people who have no job but have stopped looking for one. But even if the decline in the unemployment rate does reflect a true decline in unemployment, African-American Kansans continue to have a much higher unemployment rate than total rate. There are many reasons for this, including differences in educational attainment and hiring discrimination.

Education Attainment

While there has been a narrowing in rates of college enrollment, African-Americans continue to have lower rates of college graduation compared with their white counterparts. Among those who enter college, 62 percent of white students complete their degree or certificate within six years, compared to 38 percent of African-American students. Research shows that African-American students are more likely to be enrolled part-time, take remedial courses, and begin their college career in community college, all factors that make students less likely to finish their degree. Part-time enrollment and community college attendance can often seem like the only option for low-income or first-generation students, or students working and paying their way through college, likely the result of racial wealth disparity.

African-American students are likely overrepresented in remedial courses at the college level because they are less likely than white students to have access to college-ready courses. In 2011-12, “only 57 percent of black students have access to a full range of math and science courses necessary for college readiness, compared to … 71 percent of white students,” according to a UNCF report.

Hiring Discrimination

Research has shown that African-Americans continue to face discrimination in hiring, with the trend remaining unchanged in the past 25 years. Due to racial bias in the criminal justice system, African-Americans are more likely to enter the criminal justice system. As a result, formerly incarcerated African-Americans can face additional hiring discrimination, as their criminal records could make them ineligible for certain jobs and employers less likely to hire.

Declining unemployment is good for the state, but it is important to also look at what’s behind the numbers to understand how various factors affect the unemployment numbers for segments of the population and to identify ways Kansas can address it.

Emily Fetsch is the Kansas Center for Economic Growth’s policy and research analyst. 

ClayUnemployment down for African-American Kansans, but disparity remains