April Jobs Report: As Job Growth Slows, Unemployment Insurance is Critical for Children and Families

Nationwide—In April, the U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.9%. The unemployment rate for Black workers was 5.6%, substantially higher than the 3.5% unemployment rate among white workers. Disparities in unemployment rates are a result of structural racism in the U.S. labor market, including persistent occupational segregation.

“Economic growth is slowing and 6.5 million workers were unemployed in April,” said Rebecca Dixon, president and CEO of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), “Losing a job is a crisis for workers who experience it no matter what the larger economic situation is. And unemployment can be devastating not only for workers but for the economic security and well-being of their entire families. A strong unemployment insurance system is essential to prevent job loss from pushing families into deeper economic hardship.”

Recently released data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey finds that despite what economists saw as a strong job market in 2023, 4.0 million families had at least one member unemployed, including more than 1.3 million families with children under 18. Black and Latinx families were more likely to have an unemployed family member (7.4% of Black families and 6.8% of Latinx families) than white families (4.3%). Single parents—particularly single mothers—faced a much higher unemployment rate than married parents.

Studies find that a parent’s unemployment can damage children’s health, education, and even the child’s own career later in life. Yet there is evidence that when parents can access robust unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, the harm to children’s well-being can be mitigated: More generous UI benefits are associated with better infant health and birth outcomes and improved educational attainment for the children of unemployed parents.

During the early days of the pandemic in 2020, an estimated 17.6 million U.S. parents received enhanced pandemic UI benefits. More than 1.4 million children avoided poverty as a result of unemployment benefits that year. Researchers conclude that the stimulus payments and enhanced UI benefits in the CARES Act had the greatest positive effect on the financial security of Black and Latinx families: While only 10-14% of Black and Latinx families had sufficient savings to cover expenses if they were unemployed for six months, the CARES Act provided sufficient resources that 94% of Black families, and 92% of Latinx families could cover six months of expenses. Yet Congress allowed enhanced UI benefits to expire in 2021, leaving children and families in a far more vulnerable position when a parent experiences unemployment.

In April, 1.6 million Latinx workers were unemployed and the unemployment rate among Latinx workers was 4.8%. More than 1.2 million Black workers were unemployed.

Workers and their families may need unemployment benefits at any time and should always be able to depend on them: Congress must act to permanently repair the UI system. The Unemployment Insurance Modernization and Recession Readiness Act, introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Representative Don Beyer (D-VA), would strengthen this critical piece of social infrastructure by mandating that states offer at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, raising benefit amounts to replace a greater share of workers’ prior earnings, and increasing coverage for part-time workers, temp workers, and workers whose earnings fluctuate over time. The bill also establishes a new, federally funded Jobseekers Allowance to support jobless workers who would not otherwise be covered by unemployment insurance and modernizes the Extended Benefits program that makes additional weeks of unemployment benefits available in times of high unemployment.

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