Unemployment: “Not all areas have suffered equally”


A study was released on June 8th by the Economic Policy Institute that looked at “the variation in unemployment across the 50 largest metropolitan areas” in the U.S. Entitled “Uneven Pain: Unemployment by Metropolitan Area and Race,” the report is the most recent study that calls into question the myth of “Minnesota Nice.”

The report noted that “While every metropolitan area has experienced some negative economic consequences from the Great Recession, not all areas have suffered equally.” The inequality of which they speak is highly correlated with race. Witness the following findings:

“No metropolitan area had a black unemployment rate below 7.3%, and only two areas had Hispanic unemployment rates below 7.3%. Nearly half of the areas-24-had white unemployment rates below that level.”

“In all but two metropolitan areas, the white unemployment rate was lower than the overall rate. For the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the average white unemployment rate is 0.8 times the overall rate.”

What caught my eye, living in Minneapolis as I do, was the fact that, when it comes to the disparity in unemployment between white people and black people, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is the worst metropolitan area in the United States. By far. In the metro areas with large enough black populations to analyze , the average disparity in unemployment rates between blacks and whites was 7 percent. The gap in the Twin Cities was almost twice as large, at 13.8 percent. Only Memphis, at 10.5 percent, was even close to my town.

This major story-a front-page story if I ever saw one-was barely covered in Minnesota, and never appeared on the front pages. The Star Tribune, the local newspaper of record, chose to put this story in the Business section. Minnesota Public Radio made it the subject of one of their talk shows. Good for them. It’s quite difficult to track local media in any comprehensive way, but I don’t believe this story was covered at all by other media in the state. In any case, it has never become a “talker,” which is the term for an important story that pops up everywhere: front-pages, talk shows, elected officials’ press conferences, public forums, and other sites of civic activity.

This racial disparity in employment is not confined to the urban areas of Minnesota. Minnesota, as a state, displays the same dynamic. Earlier this spring the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report with a state-by-state breakdown of 2009 unemployment statistics by race, sex, age, etc. Black unemployment was an absolutely shocking 22.5 percent. White unemployment was 7.1 percent, for a gap of 15.4 percentage points. States like Mississippi and Alabama-states that many Northerners still consider to be symbols of Jim Crow racism-were better than Minnesota in terms of this racial disparity. In fact, every state except Wisconsin was better than Minnesota. Yet somehow this disparity does not appear to be newsworthy in this state.