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Trump is right, jobs for black Americans abound. Here's why it may not last

MEMPHIS (Reuters) - Ask Memphis residents and they might say that President Donald Trump got this one right: this is the best job market as far as many in this majority black city can remember.

For single mother Latasha Harwell, it has meant finally landing a full time job as a medical assistant, one with the regular 9 to 5 hours she needs so she can care for her kids. Chiquita Clayton says she has an open offer to move from part-time to full-time work at a FedEx(FDX.N) warehouse; forklift driver Kendrick Jefferson got $3 dollar an hour more for switching employers.

Unemployment in Memphis hit a post-crisis low of 3.5 percent in April. It has since crept back above 4 percent, though partly because of more people joining the labor force.

But with poverty rates here still among the highest in the country, workers, employment advocates, and government officials also say that is only half the story. For this good spell to truly matter to black Americans, they say, it will need to continue for years to come.

Trump often highlights that overall U.S. unemployment has reached a 50-year low on his watch, and that joblessness among black Americans has set a modern record as well.

The unemployment rate for blacks sunk to 5.9 percent in May, the lowest since 1972 when the figure was first reported separately, but the milestone reflects a trend that took shape years before Trump took office.

Black employment has risen about 1.3 million under Trump to hit a record 19.3 million in October, but job gains were the strongest during Barack Obama’s second term when recovery from the Great Recession became more firmly rooted. Recent data indicate job gains for blacks may already be leveling off.

Yet what matters for them is not who gets credit for today’s strong labor market, but whether it will be durable enough to help workers weather the next downturn, something past upswings failed to accomplish.

National data analyzed by Reuters shows minority hiring has remained clustered in industries such as food service, retail, and logistics that tend to pay less and have been quicker to lay off staff when the economy slows.

The fear is that will repeat itself, and that after outsized gains during the upswing, relatively more black workers will lose their jobs when leaner times arrive. That is what happened during the last recession, when white unemployment peaked at just over 9 percent while black unemployment shot above 16 percent.

As a result, past recoveries have done little to narrow the gap between black and white incomes, as numerous studies, including recent work by the Atlanta Federal Reserve, have documented.

Nationally, median incomes for black families remain a third below white household incomes. In Memphis the gap is even larger, with a $31,000 median annual income for blacks representing just 54 percent of that of white families.



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