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Wait - what exactly is a 'Black job'? Workers respond to Trump's anti-immigrant debate comment.

By Hannah Erin Lang

The former president claimed without evidence during Thursday's debate that migrants were 'taking Black jobs.' Memes ensued - as did criticism of what one academic called a 'fascist' point of view from the candidate.

Yes, you heard that right.

Former President Donald Trump raised eyebrows at Thursday night's debate for suggesting, without evidence, that migrants crossing the U.S. border were "taking Black jobs."

President Joe Biden was asked what he would say to Black voters who feel disappointed by the lack of progress his administration has made on issues like earning gaps, maternal mortality and incarceration rates for Black Americans. Biden pointed to the number of Black-owned small businesses started during his term, and his administration's efforts to reduce child-care costs.

In response, Trump said that "[Biden's] big kill on the Black people is the millions of people that he's allowed to come in through the border."

"They're taking Black jobs now," he added. "It could be 18, it could be 19 and even 20 million people. They're taking Black jobs and they're taking Hispanic jobs and you haven't seen it yet, but you're going to see something that's going to be the worst in our history."

The remark led to questions, criticism and plenty of online jokes regarding what exactly the former president meant by "Black jobs."

The NAACP posted during the debate: "What exactly are Black and Hispanic Jobs!?!"

Political officials chimed in as well. "Just me at my Black job this morning," Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, posted on X.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in a post on X that "the use of 'Black Jobs' by Donald Trump is highly concerning."

"Employment should be based on skills and merit, not racial labels," he said. "Let's focus on creating equal opportunities for all Americans without divisive language."

Black workers make up about 13% of the U.S. labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall U.S. population is about 14% Black.

The unemployment rate among Black Americans is consistently well above that of white workers. That gap is driven by structural factors including racial discrimination, obstacles to educational attainment and mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts Black households, according to a 2020 report from the Center for American Progress.

Biden has touted his record on improving unemployment rates for Black workers; Trump did the same during his presidency.

But it was during Biden's administration that the unemployment rate among Black workers hit an all-time low.

From the archives (June 2020): Black Americans, their lives and livelihoods on the line, suffer most from the pandemic

Comments like Trump's that pit one marginalized group against the other - in this case, Black Americans and undocumented immigrants - are designed to stoke fear, said economist Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at the New School.

"His policies are dramatically framed in a fascist notion of relative status, whether he's looking at Black Americans versus white Americans or trying to message to Black Americans," Hamilton said in a post-debate interview with the independent news program "Democracy Now!" "He presents a zero-sum scarcity framework: a threat of another group coming and taking your jobs, as opposed to an economy that flourishes, where there's plenty."

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the Senate's only Black Republican, evaded a question Thursday night on what exactly Trump might have meant by the phrase "Black jobs," and whether the comment was offensive.

"I don't think [that offends some American voters]," Scott said in an interview during NBC's post-debate coverage. "Here's what I can tell you, is that whether you are a Black person or a white person or a Hispanic person or any person, Native American, the one thing you want are [sic] more jobs."

On X, some users criticized the former president for implying that "Black jobs" were synonymous with low-wage work, and said Trump's comments belied a prejudiced view of Black people.

The share of Black workers in higher-wage sectors like information, finance and professional services increased from 2019 to 2023, according to recent research from the Council of Economic Advisers. Meanwhile, the share of Black employees in lower-wage industries like leisure and hospitality and wholesale retail trade decreased during that period, according to the analysis.

The Trump campaign did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

"These 'Black jobs' jokes are funny, but they take away the seriousness of that orange's man [sic] blatant racism towards us," one X user wrote. "He thinks low of us as human beings."

-Hannah Erin Lang

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06-29-24 0800ET

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