In a setback to the progress made in narrowing the racial unemployment gap, an increase in joblessness among Black workers has raised concerns over the waning prospects for the Black labor force.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that the unemployment rate for Black individuals rose from 4.7% to 5.6% between April and May.
Earlier this year, unemployment rates among Black workers reached their lowest levels in over a year, narrowing the gap with their white counterparts.
However, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the economic fate of Black women in America provides compelling evidence of the enduring impact of gender and race discrimination on workers and families.
Researchers at the EPI found that employer practices and government policies have historically disadvantaged Black women compared to white women and men, leading to unfavorable labor market positions.
Negative representations of Black womanhood have reinforced these discriminatory practices and policies.
Additionally, the EPI highlighted that the view of Black women as primary workers, dating back to the era of slavery, has contributed to their devaluation as mothers with caregiving responsibilities at home.
“The unique labor market history and current occupational status of African American women reflect these beliefs and practices,” concluded EPI researchers.
Black women have consistently exhibited the highest levels of labor market participation among all women in the United States, regardless of age, marital status, or the presence of children at home.
According to Nick Bunker, the director of economic research at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the latest report’s increase in the unemployment rate was its most concerning feature.
Approximately 50% of the increase in the number of unemployed workers was attributed to a rise in Black unemployment, suggesting that Black workers may bear a disproportionate burden during joblessness.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the impact was particularly pronounced among Black women, especially those working in the public sector. Their unemployment rate rose from 4.4% in April to 5.3% in May.
As Black workers constitute around 13% of the labor force, the significant increase in unemployment among Black women in May contributed significantly to the overall unemployment rate.
Black men’s unemployment rate increased from 4.5% to 5.6%.
Michelle Holder, an associate professor of economics at John Jay College at City University of New York, explained to NBC News that more Black men work in transportation or warehousing compared to Black women, who have a strong presence in the public sector and work in retail, leisure, and hospitality.
The unemployment rate for Black workers reached its lowest level in over 50 years last month, driven by the substantial job growth in the transportation and warehouse sectors, which added one million jobs in the past three years, primarily benefiting Black men.
Experts underscored that while the loss of income from unemployment affects all households, it poses additional economic challenges for Black families, who are less likely to have savings or multiple earners.
Nonetheless, they said it’s worth noting that despite the recent increase, the overall unemployment rate for Black people has been declining since 2020, when it reached historically high levels, peaking at 16.8%.
“The rise in unemployment among Black workers counts as another example of systemic inequalities that have failed to ensure equal opportunities for all individuals in the labor market,” EPI researchers asserted.
“Efforts to dismantle discriminatory practices, promote fair employment policies, and support marginalized communities are vital to ensuring sustained progress and inclusive economic growth for everyone.”