May Jobs Report: Despite Strong Job Growth, Labor Market Weakens for Black Workers

Nationwide—Unemployment remained mostly steady in May as 339,000 jobs were gained, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 6.1 million workers were unemployed, with the unemployment rate ticking up slightly to 3.7%. The unemployment rate rose from 4.7% to 5.6% for Black workers, while 3.3% of white workers were unemployed. These disparities are a result of structural racism in the U.S. labor market.

“The unemployment rate remained low last month—no thanks to the Federal Reserve,” said Rebecca Dixon, president and CEO of the National Employment Law Project. “Despite falling inflation, the Federal Reserve has been raising interest rates month after month, knowing it could result in higher unemployment. Meanwhile, by refusing to quickly and cleanly raise the debt limit, Republicans in Congress may have destabilized the global economy in an effort to force through cuts to social insurance and public goods. Workers are demanding that policymakers take action to support people pushed out of work before wider layoffs begin to mount: Congress must overhaul the nation’s unemployment insurance system, including safeguarding already allocated funds for the Department of Labor to improve the UI system.”

The unemployment rate was 4.0% for Latinx workers in May, a decrease from 4.4% in April. Asian workers’ unemployment rate was 2.9%, similar to April.

The unemployment rate for women rose from 3.3% in April to 3.6% in May, with the largest increase in unemployment among Black women.

As the economy slows, Black workers face the greatest risk of losing workplace gains. In April, the unemployment rate for Black workers reached a record low of 4.7%. Black workers have been at the forefront of recent victories for better jobs and working conditions, from the historic vote to unionize by 1,400 bus manufacturing workers in Georgia to the passage of the strongest warehouse worker protection in the nation, just signed into law in Minnesota. Yet researchers find that Black workers are often among the first laid off during a downturn and are disproportionately excluded from access to unemployment insurance 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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