Trump’s debate reference to ‘Black jobs’ stirs Democratic anger

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump warned during his debate with Joe Biden and again at a Friday rally that migrants were taking “Black jobs” and “Hispanic jobs” from Americans, angering critics who called it a racist and insulting attempt to expand his appeal beyond his white conservative base.

While President Joe Biden’s halting debate performance on Thursday night stirred widespread concerns among fellow Democrats about his readiness, Trump also repeatedly made false claims and repeated conspiracy theories that he’s long promoted during his campaign.

Trump suggested without evidence that Democrats want migrants to displace Americans as voters, and he described the state of the nation under Biden as worse than during the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump has often downplayed the racist overtones of the march, once saying there were “fine people on both sides.”

Trump’s depiction of a country on the brink, under siege from unfettered migration and beset by racial strife and economic chaos echoed his longstanding rhetoric about the state of the U.S. It’s a pessimistic vision that has long appealed to the GOP’s largely white, hard-right base but has also alienated other Americans, especially voters of color.

“The fact is that his 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,” Trump said during the debate on CNN. “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,” he warned without specifying the danger.

Yet Trump and his allies believe that such rhetoric may hold greater appeal with Black and Hispanic communitiesthis year dissatisfied with Biden’s performance in office. Trump repeated the comments during a rally Friday in Virginia.

The phrase “Black jobs” was widely condemned by Democrats and Black leaders as vague and insulting.

“I’m still wondering, what is a ‘Black job,’” Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee, quipped on Friday during a news conference with former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams in Atlanta. Other prominent Biden allies including Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Tx., Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., also condemned Trump’s words following the debate.

“There is no such thing as a Black job. That misinformed characterization is a denial of the ubiquity of Black talent. We are doctors, lawyers, school teachers, police officers and firefighters. The list goes on,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. “A ‘Black job’ is an American job. It’s concerning that a presidential candidate would seek to make a nonexistent distinction. But the divisive nature of this comment is not surprising for Donald Trump.”

Trump’s allies pushed back on the critiques as missing the president’s broader message.

“He meant the jobs of Black people. And we’ve been using that term for a while,” said Diante Johnson, president of the Black Conservative Federation. “It’s any job. Instead of Black people having unlimited accessibility to all types of jobs, illegal immigrants are taking their jobs from them.”

Much economic research shows that immigration has helped to increase employment, with a 2024 paper by the economists Alessandro Caiumi and Giovanni Peri finding that immigration between 2000 and 2019 had a positive effect on the wages of less educated workers born in the United States. Still, separate research have suggested that greater immigration may have hurt the wages of less educated Black men, though it was one of several factors.

Asked to clarify what Trump meant in describing a “Black job” during an interview with NBC News, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is Black and is under consideration to be Trump’s vice presidential nominee, sidestepped the question, instead discussing homeless veterans.

Some Black adults do think there’s a possibility that immigration will affect employment opportunities for workers who are already here. About 4 in 10 Black adults say it’s a “major risk” that the number of jobs available to American workers will be reduced when immigrants come to the U.S. — whether they arrive legally or illegally — according to an AP-NORC poll from March. But the poll also found that about 3 in 10 Black adults think it’s a major benefit that immigrants will take jobs that Americans don’t want.

In some communities like Chicago, an increased number of migrants has generated greater economic anxiety and concern that government resources are not allocated fairly. Yet Black and Hispanic Americans are on average more supportive of immigration than other demographics, and in cities like Chicago, Denver and New York, racial justice groups have been at the forefront of mitigating potential strife between communities of color and undocumented people on issues like jobs.

For some Black activists, the comments changed little about the state of the presidential race.

Michael Blake, founder and CEO of the Kairos Democracy Project, said “It’s hard for someone to believe that (Trump) means they’re taking quality jobs.”

“It is the responsibility for us to then tell the story of the benefits of diversity, rather than the fears of it. And the notion that those people are taking from you is a fear-only message as opposed to asking: How do we all win?,” Blake added. “When you embrace all races, we all win. We should not allow fear of the past to supersede the prosperity of the future, because we all can win.”

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