The sudden, sharp drop in black unemployment that set economists buzzing in January appears to have in fact been so much statistical noise. The February 2012 job numbers are out and black unemployment went right back up, to 14.1 percent (roughly double that of white unemployment, a disparity that has held for decades).
In January, black joblessness fell a remarkable three percentage points, from 15.8 percent to 13.6 percent. Many news media reports cheered; many economists raised a skeptical eyebrow. The change appeared to be driven by a change in the rate for black men. Colorlines.com’s Shani O. Hilton pursued the explanation—did thousands of black men suddenly get jobs, or was it just a statistical anomaly. The February numbers are strong suggestion that it’s just noise. Here’s a graphic explanation for how that would happen.