Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, in his outreach to black voters, frequently describes their lives as if they are living in some sort of hellscape.
And on Tuesday evening at an event in North Carolina, Trump painted perhaps the bleakest picture yet of conditions for black Americans. “Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before, ever, ever, ever,” he said. “You get no education, you get no jobs, you get shot walking down the street.”
TRUMP: "African American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before—ever, ever, ever." pic.twitter.com/SdnuZFnbBN
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) September 21, 2016
While it’s true that black Americans face significant racial inequities compared to whites, it’s hard to find any data supporting Trump’s assertion that things are worse for them now than ever before.
When it comes to education, things are certainly better for black Americans than ever before. According to Census data, the share of black people over the age of 25 with four years of high school or more was 87.1 percent in 2015, a significant increase from the last available data, when the share was 80 percent in 2003. The same trend has held for black people with four years of college education: the share was 22.7 percent in 2015, which inched up steadily from 17.5 percent in 2003.
Non-Hispanic whites do still out-perform blacks: over 93 percent have four years of high school education, while more than 36 percent have four years of college.
Trump’s claim about black Americans having “no jobs” is also hard to back up. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that black people have an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent. While that’s almost double the 4.4 percent rate for white people, it’s a good deal lower than the recent peak of 16.8 percent of black unemployment in March of 2010 and a far cry from the overall peak of 21.2 percent in January 1983. In fact, the black unemployment rate has been in double-digits more often than not going back to 1972 and it stayed above 20 percent for nine out of ten months in late 1982 through early 1983.
The same holds true for the number of black Americans who have jobs. There were about 18 million employed as of last month, much more than the 7.6 million in January of 1972. That’s also bolstered by a rising labor force participation rate—the share of the black population either working or looking for work—which has risen from a low of 58.5 percent in mid-1975 to nearly 62 percent last month.
These trends hold when it comes to other economic indicators. Black Americans have a much higher poverty rate than white ones: 24.1 percent as of 2015, according to Census data, compared to 9.1 percent of whites. Still, the share of black people in poverty is the lowest in a decade and far lower than at other times in history — it was 35.7 percent in 1983, 41.8 percent in 1966, and a staggering 55.1 percent in 1959.
Income levels tell a similar story. Median black income was $36,898 last year. That’s much less than white median income, which was $60,109. But it’s also significantly higher than the $26,844 median income black Americans had in 1967, adjusted for inflation, or even their $28,139 median income in 1983. Black median income didn’t reach above $36,000 until 1997.
Trump also repeated claims he’s made before about violence, saying that black Americans “get shot walking down the street,” this time going further to add that “places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”
But while there have been some indications that homicide rates have spiked in some American cities this year, just as many cities have seen a decline. It’s hard to draw conclusions from short-term data, but the longer-term data show things moving in the opposite direction: The violent crime rate has been cut in half over the last decade and the murder rate was at a 33-year low last year.