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lindagray

Black workers have higher unemployment rates than whites

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African American workers regularly face higher unemployment rates than whites. There are several explanations for this. Blacks often face outright discrimination in the labor market. They also are less likely to attend and graduate from college, which stems from the fact that African Americans face greater financial barriers to getting a college education, ending up with more debt than white graduates and paying more for their loans. Yet even among college graduates, African Americans often face greater job instability and higher unemployment rates, as the data below show.

For a decade now, the unemployment rate has fallen, improving the labor market outlook for many groups along the way. The U.S. unemployment rate for all workers who are 16 years old and older was down to 3.5 percent in September 2019 from its peak of 10 percent in October 2019, reaching its lowest point in 50 years. (see Figure 1) Amid the improving labor market, the African American unemployment rate fell to a historic low of 5.5 percent, and the rate for whites reached a 50-year low of 3.2 percent at the same time. More importantly, the unemployment rate for prime-age workers—those who are ages 25 to 54—fell to an average of 5.2 percent for Black workers and an average of 2.8 percent for whites for the period from November 2018 and October 2019. This was the lowest unemployment rate on record for Black prime-age workers dating back to 1973 and the lowest for white prime-age workers since 2000. (see Figure 2)

Black-Unemployment_webfig-1-.png Black-Unemployment_webfig-2.png

The trend toward ever-lower unemployment rates should not obscure the fact that African Americans systematically suffer higher unemployment rates than whites, even in a good labor market. The unemployment rate for Black workers remains higher than that for white workers even when looking at subpopulations. The data further show that African Americans typically face higher unemployment than whites regardless of age, gender, education, and veteran status. (see Figure 3)

Black-Unemployment_webfig-3.png

Regardless of educational attainment by Black workers, they typically have a higher rate of unemployment than their white college-educated counterparts. Among college graduates, for example, the Black unemployment rate averaged 2.8 percent from November 2018 to October 2019, 40 percent higher than the 2 percent rate for white college graduates in the same period. (see Figure 3) While college attainment helps all workers get more access to better-paying, stable jobs with better benefits, the advantages are not evenly distributed. Black workers, no matter their level of education, still face impediments in the labor market—employment discrimination, occupational segregation, and unequal pay.

americanprogress.org

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