According to an employment report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released Friday (March 5), the economy’s recovery is not reaching all American equally.
Though the US has gained 379,000 more jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.2% overall, Black women are not seeing the same rates of progress as other groups.
The report found that the employment rate for Black women is down 9.7% from February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the country and stalled the economy.
Since last year, the decrease in employment for white men, white women, and Black men were 5%, 5.4%, and 5.9%, respectively, compared to nearly double for Black women.
Hispanic women, too have seen stark declines in employment, with a 8.6% decrease from last year.
According to a report by CNBC, data taken since the pandemic began until now shows an overall decrease in white unemployment rates while the rate of Black unemployment is increasing. In April, unemployment peaked for white Americans at 14.1%. In April and May, Black people saw a peak of unemployment at 16.7%. Unemployment among Latino people peaked at 18.9% at the same time.
Some experts say the disparity between employment for Black women and other groups is most likely due to occupational segregation, or the prevalence of a particular demographic in an industry.
“Women are slightly more represented in some sectors like leisure and hospitality and food service,” Kate Bahn, an economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told the outlet. “We’ve also lost healthcare jobs, particularly low wage healthcare jobs that are disproportionately held by women of color,” she added.
Janelle Jones, the first Black woman to be chief Labor economist, wrote about the disparities in both public and private sectors in a blog post last month: “Losses in local and state government and leisure and hospitality have disproportionate impacts on Black women’s employment. Black women are nearly one in four public sector workers” Jones wrote. “Half a million Black women have left the labor market since January 2020.”
Previous studies also show that Black households were still recovering from the 2008 economic crisis when the pandemic hit, widening an already apparent gap in wealth between Black and white families. “Whoever was hit the hardest takes the longest to recover,” Bahn also stated. “Once we are long into recovery, employment levels and income levels may not fully recover for years.”
The child care crisis created by the pandemic has also led to many women to make the decision to leave the workforce. In previous economic crises, women who left the labor force to care for children often have a hard time finding a job that made the same wages when they did look to reenter the labor market.
The specific nature of the COVID-19 recession also has implications for Black women’s ability to return to work. “In other recessions, children were still in schools,” Kristen Broady, director of policy at the Hamilton Project told the outlet. “If you can’t afford child care and are a single mom, you can’t go to work.”
Millions of Americans, as well as economists, are hoping that President Joe Biden’s stimulus package will help recovery efforts and provide relief to those who’ve been out of work because of the pandemic. The $1.9 trillion aid package includes direct payments of $1,400, extension of weekly federal unemployment benefits through September. Experts are hopeful that the president will be able to sign the bill sometime this week following the House’s review of the Senate’s version of the package.
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