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Unemployment rates tell us some things about how the economy is doing. But aggregate rates, even if they go down a virtual eighth of an inch like they did in November, hide high levels of disparity by race. And they have told us next to nothing about any link between unemployment and violence by organized self-conscious racists.

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, we’ve created an interactive graph, so that users can pinpoint unemployment rates by month since March 1973–that being the first month data was available for whites, blacks and Latinos. The user can look at aggregate totals, or by men or women, or by white, Latino or black rates; or use it to compare any combination of these demographic categories.

The highest degree of racial disparity during the period covered by this chart occurred in April 1973; when white unemployment stood at 3.4% and the rate for black people was almost triple that at 9.9%. In the years that followed, the racial differences tended to harden at a two to one disadvantage for black people. Or put another way: at a one to two advantage for white people looking for work. For example, the highest overall rate was during the months of November and December 1982, when unemployment stood at 10.8. But that overall rate included the fact that the rates for white people stood at 10.1%, and for black people it was 20.9%.

During the Clinton administration, the overall rate fell to 3.9% in October 2000. The unemployment levels for white people was even lower at 3.3%, but for blacks it was more than double at 7.3%.

The disadvantage to black people–the advantage to white people–has remained hard and fast, although maybe it has shrunk a bit in this, the first year of the Obama administration. The Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released for November show a drop in the overall unemployment rate from 10.2% to 10%. Some Democrats claim this report is proof that the administration’s fiscal measures adopted this past winter are finally working, and that an end to the recession is in sight–perhaps as early as next spring. What the current Labor bureau showed was that the rate of unemployment among whites looking for work was 9.3% and for blacks looking for work it was 15.6%

The bureau also developed numbers using a definition of unemployment that included those who have stopped looking for work because they are discouraged plus those working part-time but still looking for full-time. That expanded definition brought the total unemployment rate in November to over 17%. These are depression-era, not recession-sized numbers that will not easily come down to more humane levels, regardless of what happens to the economy next spring.

The known social consequences of unemployment are a hall of horrors. Hunger has gone up, a fact reflected to some degree by the known number of food stamp users and anecdotal reports by food banks. The numbers of homeless people has also increased. And a 2004 study by the National Institute for Justice, reported by, showed that “the rate of violence against women increases as male unemployment increases.”

What all this data does not show, however, is a correlation between white male unemployment rates and mayhem and violence by organized white supremacists. In 1983, for example, the year that The Order was first organized, the rate for white men hovered around 8%. By June 1984, the time when Order members shot and killed radio talker Alan Berg, that rate had fallen to 6%. In January 1987, the month one band of former White Patriot Party members or another are thought to have shot five men they believed to be gay in the back of the head, execution style, the overall rate of unemployment for white people stood at 5.9%.

By 1988, the year an Ethiopian student named Mulegeta Seraw was beaten to death by East Side Wide Pride skinheads in Portland, Oregon, the unemployment rate for white men had fallen to about 4%. In June 1995, two months after the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed, that number was 4.3%. And in June1996, the year the so-called Aryan Republican Army and Phineas Priesthood were bank robbing and bombing, white male unemployment stood at 4.1%.

There have been a number of cases of bigoted violence this year, with a couple of high profile crimes by activists clearly identified with organized white-ist groups. But the level of violence is still lower this year than it was in 1995 and 1996, even though white male unemployment today is double that experienced during that earlier period.

In July 1999, a Church of the Creator member in Illinois went on murderous spree that left two dead and ten others wounded. A few weeks later, an Aryan Nations member killed a black postal worker and shot up a Jewish community center in Los Angeles. The unemployment rate for whites in July 1999 was 3.7% (the overall unemployment rate that month was 4.3%). The poverty rate for non-Hispanic whites was as low as it had been anytime in the previous 25 years, and the adjusted 1999 median income for white households was the highest ever recorded. That’s right: individual income levels up for white men, the poverty rate and unemployment level, down.

Politics and ideology apparently drive white nationalists in the United States, not economic distress. This is a trend that should be followed in the future, and this author will examine the data next year. So should you. Take a look for yourself at “Unemployment by Race and Gender” here.


Leonard Zeskind

Author Leonard Zeskind

is founder of IREHR. For almost four decades, he has been a leading authority on white nationalist political and social movements. He is the author of Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalism from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009. [more..]

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