January Jobs Report: Many Workers Remain Uneasy Despite Strong Job Growth

Nationwide—The unemployment rate fell to 3.4% in January, according to this morning’s monthly jobs report. Approximately 517,000 jobs were added, while 5.7 million workers were unemployed. The unemployment rate for Black workers fell from 5.7% to 5.4% even as more Black workers entered the labor force. Yet the unemployment rate for white workers remained substantially lower at 3.1%. These disparities are a result of structural racism embedded in the U.S. labor market.

“Job growth overall remains very strong,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Yet workers in every industry are looking at the cruelty of recent tech layoffs and worrying they might be next. If highly educated tech workers at billion-dollar corporations can be treated so poorly, what does it mean for other working people?”

“At the same time, workers are pushing back against the devastating toll of job loss,” Dixon said. “In New York City, workers and advocates are rallying for legislation that would provide new protections against abrupt and unfair firings, even in industries that aren’t experiencing mass layoffs.”

“Nationally, workers are calling for a stronger unemployment insurance system, recognizing that having economic support if they were to lose their jobs enhances their power and ability to report workplace violations and demand better conditions.”

The unemployment rate for Latinx workers rose from 4.1% to 4.5% while the unemployment rate among Asian workers rose from 2.4% to 2.8%.

One worrying new trend is the increase in the percentage of workers reporting that they worked multiple jobs, which grew to 5.0% of the workforce compared to 4.7% a year ago. The rate is still lower than the pre-pandemic rate of 5.1%.  Taking an additional job is one of the strategies workers are pursuing to afford rising prices. Yet research suggests that working many additional hours can negatively impact workers’ health and personal relationships. One job should be enough: Policymakers must better support working families.

In her recent testimony before the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Rebecca Dixon explained why pandemic programs, including expanded unemployment insurance, should become a permanent part of the nation’s social infrastructure.

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. A transformed unemployment insurance system will strengthen the economy and enable all workers to thrive.

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