June Jobs Report: Policymakers Must Focus on Black Workers’ Unemployment

Nationwide — In June, the U.S. economy gained 209,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dipped slightly to 3.6%. New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics also shows that the unemployment rate for Black workers increased from 5.6% to 6.0%, even as the unemployment rate for white workers declined to 3.1%. These disparities are a result of structural racism in the U.S. labor market.

“Workers and advocates have long called on policymakers to pay particular attention to the Black unemployment rate when they make decisions that affect workers and the labor market,” said Rebecca Dixon, president and CEO of the National Employment Law Project. “Black workers are often impacted first and worst when job growth slows, forecasting the dangers that other workers will confront. Yet Congress has still not acted to permanently strengthen the unemployment insurance system so that all jobless workers have adequate economic security as they seek new employment.”

The unemployment rate in June was 4.3% for Latinx workers, an increase from 4.0% in May. Asian workers’ unemployment rate was 3.2%, an increase from 2.9% in May.

The largest employment gains were in the public sector, where 60,000 jobs were added in June. State governments added 27,000 jobs and local governments added 32,000 jobs. Yet public employment overall remained below its pre-pandemic levels, even as much of the private sector economy has recovered.

The slow recovery of public sector jobs has particularly harmed Black workers, especially Black women. Black workers have long sought economic security and opportunity in public sector work, largely because public sector civil service rules, stronger protections against discrimination, and union agreements have reduced the impact of racial discrimination in the workplace. This is a key reason why public sector jobs have been a mainstay for Black workers and their families, which is undercut by the slow recovery of state and local employment.

Altogether, 6 million workers were unemployed in June, yet only about 1.7 million workers claimed unemployment insurance benefits. And even though Black workers are more likely to be unemployed due to systemic racism in the labor market, workers of color are even less likely to receive unemployment benefits than white workers. These low rates of benefit recipiency for all workers are the result of a variety of policy choices, including eligibility restrictions, cuts to benefit weeks, and procedural hurdles that prevent unemployed workers from becoming—or remaining—eligible for unemployment benefits.

But even workers who are eligible often do not receive unemployment benefits. A new NELP policy brief explores why eligible unemployed workers don’t claim unemployment benefits, and how federal performance standards can be a powerful tool for increasing equitable access to benefits.

Congress must act 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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