Mississippi’s Racial Gap in Unemployment is 2nd Highest in Nation

May 17th, 2013

Last week the blog examined wages in Mississippi with a close look at the median wage for different racial groups. There are significant differences in earnings between white and black workers in the state. In 2012, the median wage for white workers registered at $16.97 while the median wage for African American workers was $11.44 – a difference of $5.53.

There are also substantial gaps in the unemployment rate between white and black workers. A brief released this week by the Economic Policy Institute finds that unemployment rates among black workers are regularly between two and three times that of white workers. The brief –Ongoing Joblessness in Mississippi- tracks unemployment rates since the Great Recession and compares trends in Mississippi to national trends.


  • The unemployment rate of blacks in Mississippi is 14.3%, more than two and a half times that of whites (5.4%), and has been at least twice the white rate (and at times triple the white rate) for much of the last five years.
  • Of the 24 states with large enough African American populations to track with unemployment data, Mississippi has the 9th highest African American unemployment rate.
  • Mississippi’s white unemployment rate has declined steadily, though slowly over the last 3 years to 5.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Mississippi’s white unemployment rate places it among the states with relatively low unemployment rates for white workers.
  • The black-white gap in unemployment rates in Mississippi is 2nd largest in the nation.

The chart below tracks the unemployment rate overall and rates for black and white workers from 2008 to 2012. Rates for black workers peaked at 19.8% while rates for white workers peaked at 7.

Education attainment, access to professional networks, and an older white workforce potentially all play into the enduring gap in both earnings and unemployment by race. At the peak of the recession 1 in 5 African American workers was looking for work and unable to find a job compared to 1 in 13 white workers. As with disparities in wages, the gap between white and black unemployment rates dramatically affects the economic trajectory of families across Mississippi.

Such wide disparities cannot be sustained. In the past, we’ve blogged about the report - Equity as the Superior Growth Model – which underscores that our state’s future hinges on our ability and willingness to give all of Mississippians the advantage of investments in the public structures that lead to advancement, opportunity and growth.  Targeted investments in early childhood, K-12, higher education among the most vulnerable children and communities are essential to moving the state forward.  Also, strategies that build wealth amongst the state’s low-income and minority populations through small business ownership are critical to creating jobs and opportunity for all of the state’s residents. All of these priorities are a part of a broader need pressing the state of Mississippi – to reduce current disparities, so all citizens can benefit from greater prosperity.

Authors: Ed Sivak, Director and Sarah Welker, Senior Policy Analyst

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