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Why Trump's bragging of record low black unemployment misses the mark

Don Lee, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

If the president succeeds in returning manufacturing to its glory days, as he has often promised, or pushing through a proposed $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment package, that could certainly open up more opportunities, especially for African-American men, whose high unemployment rates have been traced at least partly to the loss of blue-collar and unionized jobs in America. Black workers remain well represented in construction and manufacturing industries.

It is far from certain, however, that Congress will seriously consider the kind of big infrastructure program that Trump wants, sketchy as the details are at the moment.

And even if the president's policies help strengthen domestic manufacturing -- and there are skeptics who think Trump could take the U.S. into a costly trade war -- new factories today generally require far fewer workers than in times past. The new jobs also typically demand more skills and training.

The longer-term outlook may be even more tenuous. Any potential strides that can be made from an industrial or economic resurgence, analysts say, could well be undermined by what many see as inevitable government spending cuts as a result of surging deficits and higher costs for current programs.

Trump sold the $1.5 trillion Republican tax-cut plan as a boon to ordinary workers, but the biggest beneficiaries are corporations and wealthy Americans, where blacks are underrepresented. Just 2.8 percent of all African-American households had annual incomes of $200,000 or more in 2016, compared with 8.1 percent for whites and 3.4 percent for Latinos.

The GOP tax overhaul is projected to help Americans in almost all groups initially, but those benefits turn into tax increases within a few years for taxpayers in lower-income brackets. More than individual tax bills, experts fear that government agencies -- federal as well as state and local -- will have to make sharp budget reductions in programs that support public education and social welfare -- cuts that will almost certainly disproportionately hurt black families and other minorities.

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Though the Trump administration has argued that the tax cuts will largely pay for themselves through stronger economic growth and thus more tax revenues, the consensus among experts is that they will add around $1 trillion to the federal debt over 10 years, likely forcing Congress to make some hard decisions in the future about where to make discretionary spending cuts.

Some congressional Republicans have talked about pulling back on things such as food stamps, which many more black and white Americans alike have come to lean on in the last decade. One out of 10 white households reported getting food stamps in 2016, but it was one out of four for black households.

The new tax law eliminated the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, likely resulting in a higher percentage of people going without health insurance -- an important indicator of economic well-being. Thanks largely to the ACA, the share of black Americans without health insurance was down to 9.7 percent in 2016, from 18.1 percent in 2009 -- a much bigger drop than for white Americans, 7.7 percent of whom went without medical coverage in 2016.

Policy analysts are particularly concerned about the threat of cutbacks in federal and state funding for education and training, which are key to economic mobility and securing the skills needed for higher-paying jobs.

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