US unemployment has improved, but not for these groups

New York () — The US unemployment rate returned to its record low of 3.5% in December. Not everyone is celebrating, though: Unemployment rates for Black women and Latino men have yet to fully recover from the pandemic.

The unemployment rate for black women age 20 and older rose to 5.5% in December, from 5.2% in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It was 4.8% in February 2020, the month before the covid shutdowns rocked the US economy.

For Latino men, unemployment rose 0.4 percentage points to 4% last month, up from the February 2020 unemployment rate of 3.1%.

But for many other demographic groups, unemployment is lower or the same now as it was before the pandemic. For white women age 20 and older, the rate was 2.8% in December. The unemployment rate was around 2.5% for Asians, 3% for whites and 4% for Latinos, according to the BLS.

According to Kate Bahn, chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a nonprofit research and grantmaking organization, the rise in unemployment among Black and Latino women is due to multiple reasons.

Chief among them are the lingering effects of the pandemic, occupational segregation that crowds people of color into low-paying jobs, and women’s responsibilities as caregivers for their families.

“We’ve had a really remarkable recovery, but it seems that black women…we know they lost the most initially for various reasons…have not yet recovered in the same way as other groups of workers,” Bahn told . .

“What we saw was that Black women found themselves in this truly impossible position of being primary caregivers for families while working in jobs that were (some of) the hardest hit by the pandemic,” Bahn said, noting that sectors of the retail, hospitality and healthcare were disproportionately affected by job loss and occupational risk.

Leisure and hospitality lost more than 8.2 million jobs at the start of the pandemic, almost half of the sector’s total employment in February 2020. Over the past two years, those jobs have recovered, but the sector remains nearly 5.5% below pre-pandemic employment levels, according to BLS data.

The Fed Effect

The current government response to inflation may also be contributing to the rise in unemployment among Latino men and black women, according to Bahn.

“By cooling the economy, the intentional way the Fed mitigates inflation, it will be the marginalized workers or the less empowered workers who will lose out initially,” he said. “So that could be some of what we’re seeing there as well.”

Latino workers are still trying to recover from the early stages of the pandemic, when they suffered the highest unemployment rates on record. In April 2020, the Latino unemployment rate shot up to 18.1%, after hovering around 4% before the pandemic, according to BLS data.

Latinos and black workers also face structural racism and implicit bias, Bahn added, noting that “even people who may not hold racist beliefs will ultimately replicate racist results.”

Employers are less likely to make job offers to blacks, Bahn said. And when they do, the money on the table is often less. Also, when companies downsize, black employees are more likely to be laid off.

“All of these factors intersect and lead, generally speaking, to higher barriers to economic security for black workers,” he said.

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