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During his opening statement at the first Democratic presidential debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders turned to some statistics he’s used before on the stump, decrying high rates of joblessness among young African-Americans.
"African-American youth unemployment is 51 percent," Sanders said at the Oct. 13, 2015, debate in Las Vegas. "Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent."
That’s similar -- but not identical -- to a claim we checked in July. Back then, he said that for African-Americans between the ages of 17 and 20, "the real unemployment rate … is 51 percent." We rated that Mostly True. However, since the claim was phrased somewhat differently, we’ll take a fresh look at it here.
At the debate, Sanders didn’t define the age range in question, but the most readily available "youth" data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics covers ages 16 to 19.
For individuals age 16 to 19 in September 2015, the official unemployment rate for whites was 13.9 percent, for Hispanics it was 18.6 percent, and for African-Americans it was 31.5 percent. For individuals in that age range of all races and ethnicities, the unemployment rate was 16.3 percent.
While the rates for both minority groups are lower than the rate for whites, they are still well below the figures Sanders offered at the debate.
So what’s going on?
When we checked this claim in July, we noted that Sanders, by using the term "the real unemployment rate," had telegraphed that he was not using the most commonly used unemployment-rate statistic.
Indeed, when we asked Sanders’ camp for supporting evidence, they pointed us to research by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-of-center think tank. This data was different from the more familiar measurements for a few reasons.
One, the institute didn’t just look at employment status for people between the ages of 17 and 20; it limited its reach to high school graduates who were not enrolled in further schooling.
And two, EPI counted not only unemployed workers but also those who were working part-time due to the weakness of the economy and those who were "marginally attached to the labor force." The latter category includes people who did not meet the strict definition of being in the job market, but weren’t entirely out of the market, either.
The statistic EPI used, known by the wonky shorthand U-6, is officially called a measure of "labor underutilization" rather than "unemployment." EPI itself used the term "underemployment" in its research.
It’s a real statistic, but in July Sanders didn’t really describe it the correct way. He twice used the term "unemployment rate" and once used the variation "real unemployment rate," a vague term that doesn’t have any official definition at BLS and wasn’t mentioned in the EPI research he was quoting.
His phrasing during the debate was even more problematic. He simply said, "unemployment rate," without indicating that he was using a non-standard measurement.
Also, the EPI data only went through March 2015. But since March, the overall unemployment rate for all African-Americans has fallen by almost 1 percentage point, though the rate for the subset of 16-to-19-year-olds has zigzagged since then. (This youth subset is based on a small sample and has a higher margin of error.)
All this said, Sanders does have a point that young African-Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of unemployment than young whites do.
"What's odd about Sanders' choice is that he could have used the official unemployment statistics and still made his point that African American and Hispanic youth have higher rates of unemployment than other groups," said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist and chief economist at the jobs site Indeed.
During the debate, Sanders said that "African-American youth unemployment is 51 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent."
He has a point that African-American and Hispanic youth have significantly worse prospects in the job market than whites do. But his numbers are too far off.
Using the standard method for determining the jobless rate, the figure for African-American youths is 31.5 percent and for Hispanic youths it’s 18.6 percent. While those rates are still disproportionately high, they are not nearly as high as Sanders said.
The statement is partially accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Half True.
Bernie Sanders, comments in the CNN Democratic debate, Oct. 13, 2015
Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey" (main index page), accessed Oct. 13, 2015
Economic Policy Institute, "Young Black High School Grads Face Astonishing Underemployment," June 8, 2015
PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders says 'real unemployment' rate for African American youth is 51 percent," June 13, 2015
Email interview with Tara Sinclair, George Washington University economist and chief economist at the jobs site Indeed, Oct. 13, 2015
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