February Jobs Report: Strong Job Growth Leaves Out Black Women

Nationwide—The unemployment rate fell to 3.8% in February, according to this morning’s monthly jobs report. Approximately 678,000 jobs were produced, and 6.3 million workers remained unemployed. While unemployment declined for most demographic groups, the jobless rate among Black women rose from 5.8% to 6.1%. These disparities are a result of structural racism and sexism embedded in the U.S. labor market and demonstrate how the nation’s economic recovery continues to exclude workers even during a time of strong job growth.

“The nation’s economic recovery is still leaving workers behind,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Policymakers cannot act as if we’ve solved the challenge of unemployment when the jobless rate for Black workers is still twice as high as the rate for white workers, and when less than a third of unemployed workers actually receive unemployment benefits. Global conflict, supply chain challenges, and the continuing risk of another COVID variant highlight how tenuous economic growth remains: Congress must act now to build an unemployment insurance system that will support all workers at all times.”

Policymakers cannot act as if we’ve solved the unemployment challenge when the jobless rate for Black workers is still twice as high as the rate for white workers.

Although 6.3 million workers were officially counted as unemployed in February, fewer than one in three (about two million workers, according to the Department of Labor) received unemployment insurance benefits the week ending February 12th. Data on advance unemployment claims suggests that even fewer workers were receiving benefits by the end of the month.

Restrictive state laws exclude millions of jobless workers from receiving unemployment benefits, disproportionately shutting out Black and Latinx workers. Many other workers are discouraged from even applying for benefits or believe they do not qualify. When Congress temporarily expanded unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021, the support kept 4.7 million people from falling into poverty, but policymakers allowed federal programs to expire in September 2021, leaving jobless workers to rely on inadequate and exclusionary state unemployment systems.

Driven by job gains for Black men, the overall unemployment rate for Black workers fell from 6.9% to 6.6%. Yet, the unemployment rate for Black workers was still twice as high as the rate for white workers (3.3%). The February unemployment rate for Latinx workers was 4.4%, and 3.1% of Asian workers were unemployed.

Recent data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey highlight how prevalent economic insecurity remains, especially among workers of color: 29.7% of Latinx households and 21.8% of Black households report that someone in the household experienced a loss of employment income in the last four weeks, including late January and early February. This could be the result of losing a job, having hours cut, or losing pay due to illness, caregiving, or some other reason. Among white households, 14.5% experienced a loss of employment income, as did 13.2% of Asian households.

As global unrest, supply chain problems, and the threat of another COVID-19 variant continue to threaten economic recovery and overall stability, policymakers must implement permanent, structural reform of the unemployment insurance system. Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act would begin to address some significant ways the unemployment insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities. It does so by providing at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider workers’ most recent earnings and standardizing earning requirements. These reforms lay the groundwork for transforming our unemployment insurance system and enabling all workers to thrive.


Related to

The Latest News

All news