Candidates for Missouri’s GOP gubernatorial nomination have sparred over race relations, MU campus protests and the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
At a March 17 debate in Columbia, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said unemployment was a key cause of the events in Ferguson, saying, "Young men were walking around with nothing to do."
The reasons for the unrest in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown aren’t simple, but we wanted to determine whether Kinder’s numbers for youth unemployment in minority communities were on the money.
Youth unemployment in Ferguson and the city of St. Louis
Kinder’s office said the numbers came from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch column in 2014, which said 47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 were unemployed, according to 2012 census numbers.
Peter Muesser, professor of labor economics at MU, said the youth jobless rate Kinder cited seemed to be in the correct range.
"I’m seeing Kinder’s statement as likely reliable because it was based on Census Bureau info," he said. "The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau are the best sources when it comes to reliable unemployment statistics."
The Census Bureau and the BLS work together, using annual and monthly surveys to define the unemployment rate and other measures of the American population. The Current Population Survey is more in-depth, but the American Community Survey has a bigger sample size, which allows for unemployment estimates from smaller geographical areas like cities and townships.
According to the American Community Survey, the youth unemployment rates in 2014 for St. Louis City, Ferguson Township, and Ferguson City were significantly different.
- St. Louis City – 32 percent (16-19 years); 21 percent (20-24 years)
- Ferguson Township – 54 percent (16-19 years); 34 percent (20-24 years)
Because Kinder specified youth unemployment in minority communities, we looked at the demographic makeup of both St. Louis City and Ferguson.
- St. Louis City – 126,452 white residents; 118,653 African American residents
- Ferguson – 9,178 white residents; 17,824 African American residents
St. Louis has a comparable number of black and white residents. Ferguson has a significantly larger African-American population, with black residents outnumbering white residents by a 2-to-1 margin.
The rate of African American unemployment in all age groups is historically twice that of white unemployment across the nation. Youth unemployment is no different – nationally, the unemployment rate for African Americans 16-24 is about 20 percent, while the unemployment rate for the same age group of whites is about 10 percent.
The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data fits Ferguson into Kinder’s claim of youth unemployment of about 40 percent to 45 percent in minority communities.
Defining which cities, suburbs and townships are "minority communities" is a matter of debate. But it’s worth noting that Ferguson’s youth are not only more unemployed than their peers in St. Louis , they are also significantly more unemployed on average than both white and black 16-24 year-olds across the country.
Ferguson was the community in question when Kinder cited the rate of 40 percent to 45 percent of youth unemployment in minority communities — and Ferguson does fit into Kinder’s estimate. We rate Kinder’s statement as Mostly True.