Six Cities Where Black People Are Living in a Depression

Black unemployment is at levels comparable to the Great Depression in six cities. But then again, black populations in dozens of cities were in acute recessions before the national crisis ever began. The actual numbers are striking.

By Kai Wright Oct 07, 2011

Update @ 11:50a: You can see similarly dramatic numbers for Latino populations in several metro areas. There are Depression-level jobless rates among Latinos in the Providence, R.I., area; the Hartford, Conn., area; Frenso, Calif.; and Las Vegas. As with African Americans, you have to get to the 35th metro area on EPI’s list of hardest hit Latino populations to find a jobless rate on par with the national crisis. See the cities and their rates here.


After a week in which the building popular anger about economic inequality led the news, today the latest job numbers are out. They’re being called "better than expected," a familiar refrain when there’s an uptick in job creation. But the week-to-week and month-to-month ups and downs aren’t really the point anymore. It’s the trend line that matters, and that’s downward. And earlier this week, the Economic Policy Institute crunched data to show just how sharply downward it is in black America. Between 2007 and today, the black populations of several cities slid into what can only be described as a depression.

EPI’s Algernon Austin looked at the 30 cities with the highest black jobless rates in 2010, comparing them to the rates in 2007 and to the overall jobless rates. The absolute numbers are bracing enough by themselves. Here are the top five cities:

1. Detroit — 24.7 percent
2. Milwaukee — 22.3 percent
3. Las Vegas — 21.4 percent
4. Minneapolis — 20.7 percent
5. Charlotte and Los Angeles — 19.5 percent

That means the black population of these six cities is living with unemployment that is comparable to that of the Great Depression. These are stunning numbers. Any meaningful effort to fix our nation’s crisis would include massive, targeted efforts to create jobs that are accessible to black people in these specific places.

The relative numbers are equally significant. You have to get all the way down to the 30th city on EPI’s list before you find a black population with unemployment rates that are equivalent to the national rate today, 9.1 percent. The national black unemployment rate is double that today, as it was in 2010 as well. In a dozen large metro areas, the black rate was more than twice that of the white rate in 2010.

But here’s what’s really striking about EPI’s chart: In 2007, before the national crisis began, black unemployment was higher than the current national rate in 10 cities. In eight of them black unemployment was higher than 10 percent; in Detroit and Cleveland it was nearly 15 percent. The point is that many black communities were in a dramatic economic crisis before the national one ever began. Few in Washington cared enough to do something about it then; few care to do much about it now.