February Jobs Report: Job Growth Slows, Unemployment Edges Up

Nationwide—Approximately 311,000 jobs were gained in February, and the unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.6%, according to this morning’s monthly jobs report. Unemployment rose most for Latinx workers, increasing from 4.5% in January to 5.3% last month, compared to 3.6% unemployment overall. These disparities are a result of structural racism in the U.S. labor market.

“We should all be concerned about rising unemployment,” said Rebecca Dixon, president and CEO of the National Employment Law Project. “State unemployment insurance systems are not prepared for a surge of laid-off workers. And states often exclude the most marginalized workers from receiving the UI benefits they need, shutting out underpaid workers and part-timers who are more likely to be women and workers of color. Policymakers should resist efforts to further undermine the labor market. At the same time, they must work to strengthen the unemployment insurance system so all workers can thrive.”

Overall, 5.9 million workers were unemployed in February, an increase of 242,000 from the prior month.

The biggest area of job growth was in leisure and hospitality which gained 105,000 jobs in February. Employment in leisure and hospitality is still down by 410,000 jobs compared to its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Leisure and hospitality jobs, including hotel and restaurant work, frequently underpay workers and have higher concentrations of women and people of color as a result of occupational segregation. Some workers in the industry are standing together to improve their jobs by organizing unions.

Employment in retail, another traditionally underpaying sector, also grew in February.

Unemployment rates edged up slightly for most demographic groups. The unemployment rate for Black workers was 5.7%, compared to 3.2% for white workers. The unemployment rate for Asian workers was 3.4%.

Congress must act now to build an unemployment insurance system that will support all workers at all times. This includes establishing minimum federal standards for UI eligibility, benefit duration, and benefit adequacy that all state unemployment systems must meet; ensuring equitable access to UI benefits; modernizing and reforming the Extended Benefits program and establishing additional emergency UI programs that automatically trigger on during periods of high unemployment. This also includes adequate and sustained funding for UI administration, oversight, and IT modernization, which is essential to ensure timely and accurate payments. A transformed unemployment insurance system will strengthen the economy and enable all workers to thrive.

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