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Trump Says African-American Communities In 'Worst Shape' Ever; Data Disagree

Donald Trump campaigned alongside boxing promoter Don King in Ohio Wednesday.
Evan Vucci
Donald Trump campaigned alongside boxing promoter Don King in Ohio Wednesday.

Attempting to court black voters over the last two months, Donald Trump has painted a pretty dire picture of their lives. "You're living in poverty," he said in late August. "Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"

On Tuesday Trump took this rhetoric one step further, telling a North Carolina audience that "our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before. Ever, ever ever."

Of course, Trump's statement ignores large, critically important eras in American history: slavery, and the Jim Crow laws that lingered for more than a century after the practice was abolished.

But what about in more recent years? A look at major indicators like employment and health suggests that while African-Americans lag behind the rest of the country in many key areas, they've also experienced steady economic and socioeconomic gains.

Let's start with unemployment. The black unemployment rate is more than 8 percent – that's more than three points higher than the national average. But it's halved from the recent post-recession high of 16.6 percent.

"Black America is like a caboose on a train," said National Urban League president Marc Morial recently told NPR's Scott Horsley. "When the train speeds up, the caboose speeds up. But it's still the caboose."

Black household income rose 4 percent last year, Horsley also reported.

Trump repeatedly cites that 58 – sometimes he says 59 — percent unemployment rate among black youth. The actual figure is still quite high – about 27 percent – but nowhere near the six-in-ten number that Trump cites during his stump speech.

The National Urban League puts out an annual report on the State of Black America. Its most recent survey shows educational progress over the last 40 years. "Eighty-six percent of African Americans are high school completers, the share with a bachelor's degree or more has more than tripled (from 6.6 percent to 22.2 percent) and roughly one-third of 18-24-year-olds are enrolled in college," the study finds. "While whites have increased college enrollment faster than Blacks between 1976 and 2014, the college completion gap has narrowed 20 percentage points over this time."

Earlier this year, the New York Times examined health trends:

A recent trove of federal data offered some good news. The suicide rate for black men declined from 1999 to 2014, making them the only racial group to experience a drop. Infant mortality is down by more than a fifth among blacks since the late 1990s, double the decline for whites. Births to teenage mothers, which tend to have higher infant mortality rates, have dropped by 64 percent among blacks since 1995, faster than for whites.

Blacks are still at a major health disadvantage compared with whites. But evidence of black gains has been building and has helped push up the ultimate measure — life expectancy. The gap between blacks and whites was seven years in 1990. By 2014, the most recent year on record, it had shrunk to 3.4 years, the smallest in history, with life expectancy at 75.6 years for blacks and 79 years for whites.

And, primarily because of the Obamacare that Trump is vowing to begin repealing on his first day in office, the number of uninsured African-Americans dropped by nearly 10 points over the last three years.

Trump's black outreach has been hit-or-miss. He's been criticized for primarily speaking to mostly-white campaign rallies, rather than directly addressing black voters.

Trump's recent visit to a black church in Detroit went smoothly, but last week he picked a fightwith an African-American pastor after a rocky visit to her Flint, Mich. church.

Trump hit another stumble Tuesday, when boxing promoter Don King joined him at an Ohio campaign event, and accidentally said the N-word while making a point about how no matter how much money a black person earns, in King's mind, he'll still be "a rich negro."

"If you are talented and intellectual, you are an intellectual negro," King said. "If you are a dancing and sliding and gliding n***** — I mean negro — you are a dancing and sliding and grinding negro."

King, a Cleveland native, attended the Republican National Convention. Trump had indicated King would address the gathering, but RNC officials reportedly nixed that idea, due to King's manslaughter conviction.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.