Black unemployment in the UK higher than the US

Black unemployment in the UK has been higher in the last three recessions.

It recently emerged that 30.7 per cent of the UK's young black males are unemployed, a significant finding [the overall rate of unemployment is 8.4 per cent]. But how does the problem here compare with the US? The answer is that we fare worse on every count. A paper due to be presented at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference today shows that in the last three recessions, unemployment among black British men was up to 15 per cent higher than among those in the US.

British black male unemployment reached 24 per cent in the early 1980s recession, 28 per cent in the early 1990s and 18 per cent in 2011. By contrast, the figures for the US were 17 per cent, 13 per cent and 15 per cent. Black women in Britain are also more likely to be unemployed than those in the US. Unemployment for black women in Britain in the three recessions peaked at 25 per cent, 26 per cent and 17 per cent, compared with 20 per cent, 12 per cent and 13 per cent in the US.

Professor Yaojun Li, of the University of Manchester, who analysed responses from 4.7 million people, will tell the conference:

Overall, there is greater ethnic inequality in Britain than in the USA for both sexes.

This gives a fairly strong indication that the flexible labour market policies adopted in Britain in the last few decades did not protect the minority ethnic groups against the repercussions of recessions.

He suggests that the US's use of affirmative action and its federal procurement policy, which requires institutions to have staff representative of the population, explains its lower levels of black unemployment. In total, one in 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US.

I recently noted that George Osborne's plans will reduce the public sector workforce to its lowest level since comparable records began in 1999. A total of 730,000 posts will be cut between 2011 and 2017. Li suggests that this could exacerbate the problem:

As a large proportion of the disadvantaged group, particularly black people, tend to find employment in the public sector, if they can find a job at all, the current coalition government’s stringency plan to cut public sector employment is most likely to hit the most vulnerable groups even harder.

It's yet more evidence that the coalition's decision to rely so heavily on spending cuts to reduce the deficit will create levels of inequality unheard of in modern times.


One 12 black Britons are unemployed, compared with one in 16 in the US. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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