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Just days before the first Republican presidential debate of the 2016 campaign, billionaire real-estate developer and current polling leader Donald Trump criticized President Barack Obama’s record on ABC’s This Week.
At one point, Trump zeroed in on Obama’s status as the country’s first black president, arguing that he had failed his black constituents.
The topic came up when ABC’s Jonathan Karl referred to a tweet by Trump that said, "Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won't see another black president for generations!"
Karl asked Trump why he thought the country wouldn’t see another black president for "generations." Trump replied:
"I think that he has set a very low bar, and I think it's a shame for the African-American people. And by the way, he has done nothing for African-Americans. You look at what's gone on with their income levels. You look at what's gone on with their youth. I thought that he would be a great cheerleader for this country. I thought he'd do a fabulous job for the African-American citizens of this country. He has done nothing. They are worse now than just about ever. ... They have problems now in terms of unemployment numbers. Look at their unemployment numbers. … Here you have a black president who's done very poorly for the African-Americans of this country."
We wondered whether Trump was right that under Obama, income levels and unemployment numbers "are worse now than just about ever" for African Americans.
We looked at historical data trends for four specific measurements for African-Americans: Overall unemployment rates, youth unemployment rates (since Trump mentioned "youth"), poverty rates, and median income. We’ll take these one by one.
Overall unemployment rates for African Americans
The African-American unemployment rate when Obama entered office was 12.7 percent. By June 2015, it had fallen to 9.5 percent, a drop of about one-quarter. And compared to its Obama-era peak of 16.8 percent in March 2010, the unemployment rate has fallen by about 43 percent.
But what about a longer historical look? The black unemployment rate was higher than its current rate between May 1974 and June 1997, and between November 2001 and June 2005. In all, since May 1974, black unemployment was higher than today’s rate in 328 months, and lower than today’s rate in 87 months. So it’s been higher than today 79 percent of the time since May 1974. So Trump's point here is wrong.
Youth unemployment rates for African Americans
For this category, we looked at the historical unemployment rate data for African-Americans age 16 to 24. Because this data is not seasonally adjusted (which makes a month-to-month comparison imprecise), we looked at the most recent month of June 2015 and all previous June data going back to the oldest, which is from 1972.
In June 2015, the unemployment rate for black youth was 23.4 percent. That was down from 31 percent in June 2009. That’s a drop of about one-quarter.
More important, in the previous 43 Junes, the rate has been lower than that in only seven of those months, and higher than that in 36 of those months. So it’s been higher than its current rate 84 percent of the time, meaning Trump isn’t correct by this statistic, either.
African-American poverty rate
The black poverty rate is one of Obama’s weaker statistics. The poverty rate rose from 25.8 percent in 2009 to 27.2 percent in 2013, the most recent year available. That’s about 5 percent higher than it was when Obama took office. It’s also higher than at any time prior to the Obama presidency going back to 1996.
Still, even today’s higher black poverty rate is hardly unprecedented: It was higher than it is now between 1959 and 1996 -- a 38-year period. So Trump isn’t correct by this measurement, either.
African-American median income
We looked at household median income for African-Americans and found a similar pattern to the poverty rate: Inflation-adjusted incomes have worsened during Obama’s tenure, but they are hardly the worst rates in history.
In 2013, the median income for black households was $34,598. That’s lower than 2009 in inflation-adjusted dollars, though it’s up slightly compared to 2010. This could certainly be considered stagnation, if not shrinkage. Median income in 2013 was also lower than it was between 1996 and 2009 -- not a stellar accomplishment.
On the other hand, inflation-adjusted median household income was below today’s level between 1967 and 1995. So it was worse than today two-thirds of the time between 1967 and the year Obama became president. So Trump’s wrong using this measurement as well.
Trump said that under Obama, income levels and unemployment numbers "are worse now than just about ever" for African-Americans. Some key statistics for African-Americans, such as unemployment, improved significantly during Obama’s tenure. The ones that stagnated or worsened under Obama are still relatively positive compared to recent history.
Trump is wrong by several important measures. We rate the claim False.
Donald Trump, comments on ABC’s This Week, Aug. 2, 2015
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey" (main index page), accessed Aug. 2, 2015
U.S. Census Bureau, "Table 2. Poverty Status, by Family Relationship, Race, and Hispanic Origin," accessed Aug. 2, 2015
U.S. Census Bureau, "Table H-5. Race and Hispanic Origin of Householder -- Households by Median and Mean Income," accessed Aug. 2, 2015
PolitiFact, "Was Ronald Reagan's record on black unemployment better than Barack Obama's?" May 22, 2015
PolitiFact, "Barack Obama tells Jon Stewart the economy, 'by every metric, is better' than when he took office," July 28, 2015
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