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Black unemployment spiked in January. Does that pour cold water on Trump's claims?

by Jane C. Timm /
Jobseekers waiting in line at an Amazon jobs fair on Aug. 2, 2017 in Robbinsville, New Jersey.Mark Makela / Getty Images file

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Black unemployment spiked this month, undoing nearly all the progress made during President Donald Trump's first year in office, according to new numbers released Friday.

In January’s jobs report, the black unemployment rate jumped to 7.7 percent, just below the 7.8 percent black unemployment rate Trump inherited in January 2017. During his first State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump took credit for the country's record-low black unemployment rate — 6.8 percent. Do Friday's numbers pour cold water on the president's boasts?

A one-month change to the unemployment rate is just that — a single data point — but it is the largest single-month spike since June 2012, when the black unemployment rate rose a full percentage point, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. The rate of black unemployment has been steadily dropping for four-and-a-half years, never rising more than half a percentage point.

Sophia Koropeckyj, a managing director for Moody's Analytics, told NBC News the one-month change isn't that unusual, particularly in January when new population controls are applied to unemployment labor data and other factors are at play.

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"It’s not really reflective of underlying economic conditions, it’s more reflective of the data, of weather, of flu season," Koropeckyj said, suggesting that a three or six month average would be more telling.

Trump's chief economic adviser echoed a similar sentiment.

"For the 12 months, we’re still at a historic low in the African-American unemployment numbers," Director of the National Economic Council, Gary Cohn, said on Fox Business Friday morning. "Look, if it’s a trend it’s very concerning. If it’s a one month blip, it’s not concerning."

Still, Friday's numbers serve as a reminder of the fragility of short-term metrics like the day's stock market or that month's job numbers Trump so frequently touts as evidence of an economic boom, as well as the fact that despite the president's boasts about record-low black unemployment, the rate is still nearly double that of white unemployment.

In Trump's State of the Union on Tuesday, he boasted about the rate.

“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low. And something I’m very proud of — African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded,” he said.

We fact checked that claim. His numbers were right, but whether he can claim all the credit is questionable. He’s in part taking credit for one of his predecessor’s victories. President Barack Obama cut black unemployment in half during his administration, from its recession peak of 16.8 percent in 2010 to 7.8 percent when he left office.

Two days earlier, Trump had tweeted a response to Jay-Z after the rapper and mogul criticized the president in part for characterizing Haiti and African nations as "shithole countries" during a CNN interview.

“Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” he tweeted on Sunday.

But Jay-Z was way ahead of him, telling CNN that the black unemployment rate doesn't make up for the president's divisive rhetoric.

"Because it's not about money at the end of the day. Money doesn't equate to happiness. It doesn't. That's missing the whole point," Jay-Z said.

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