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Don Sterling Is Awful, But Our Racist Economy Is Even Worse

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We've spent endless hours this past week exploring the boneheaded racism of L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Too bad we probably won't pay nearly as much attention to the bias of our entire economy.

The black unemployment rate was one of the bleakest features of an otherwise strong April jobs report on Friday, clocking in at 11.6 percent, compared with overall unemployment of 6.3 percent and more than twice the white unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. Hispanic or Latino unemployment was 7.3 percent.

There has been a persistent gap between black and white workers since at least 1954, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track. But it has widened since the end of the Great Recession, part of what National Urban League president Marc Morial recently called "an economic crisis in Black America." Have a look:

don sterling job market

The gap closed a bit during the recession, when white layoffs accelerated. But the recovery has been kinder to white workers than to black workers, widening the gap again.

The median duration of unemployment for black workers was 23.3 weeks in April, compared with 17.1 weeks for white workers, according to not-seasonally adjusted data from the BLS. Those six weeks make a difference -- the longer workers stay unemployed, the more their skills erode, further hurting their chances of getting a job in the future.

And African-Americans with jobs are typically getting paid less than white workers: The median weekly income for black workers in 2013, the latest BLS data available, was $629, compared with $802 for white workers. That translates into annual incomes of $32,708 vs. $41,704 -- the kind of inequality we don't talk about that much.

The "underemployment rate" -- meaning the percentage of people either not working or working part-time because they can't find anything better -- was 20.5 percent for African-American workers, compared with 11.8 percent for white workers, according to the National Urban League's latest annual report on the State of Black America.

What could help? Maybe fixing an inherently biased system. The Urban League wants to raise the minimum wage, which would lift the incomes of many black workers, particularly women. Republicans say that might hurt low-wage hiring, but the jury is out on that argument. Better access to job training and child care could also help. As such fixes seem unlikely to happen soon, we'll have to just hope that the recovery keeps improving on its own, making the job market better for everybody. Just don't expect that to close the gap any time soon.

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