Posted January 5, 2024
Nationwide— The U.S. gained 216,000 jobs in December and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7%. The economy added 2.7 million jobs overall in 2023. Today’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows that the unemployment rate for Black workers was 5.2% and the unemployment rate for Latinx workers was 5.0% compared to a rate of just 3.5% for white workers. Unemployment among Asian workers was 3.1%. Continuing disparities in unemployment rates are a result of structural racism in the U.S. labor market, including occupational segregation and discrimination in hiring.
“In 2023, workers made history by joining together and winning higher pay, improved benefits, safer working conditions and better jobs all around,” said Rebecca Dixon, president and CEO of the National Employment Law Project. “The victorious strikes by auto workers, health care workers, Hollywood writers and actors revealed what’s possible when workers join together and use their power. Substantial new contracts for hospitality workers in Las Vegas and UPS workers nationwide show that even the threat of a strike can be powerful. At the same time, workers made their voices heard in states, cities, and counties, securing minimum wage increases that will take effect in 85 different jurisdictions from coast to coast in the new year. Workers have built tremendous momentum for 2024.”
Today’s data show that average hourly earnings for private sector production and nonsupervisory workers increased 0.3% in the last month, to $29.42 in December. Over the last year, hourly earnings rose $1.21. Although inflation bit into these gains, real (inflation-adjusted wages) also grew during 2023, and data now shows that inflation is slowing substantially.
The Fight for $15 movement has contributed to strong wage gains, particularly for low-paid workers. In a new report that documents minimum wage increases across the country, NELP Senior Researcher Yannet Lathrop points out, “This worker movement has not only led to the adoption of higher state and local minimum wages—it has also helped seed new worker activism and mobilization across our economy and led to greater equity for workers of color.”
In addition to pushing for gains on the job, workers are demanding better support when they are unemployed. As a part of a good jobs economy, unemployment insurance should act as a bridge so that anyone who is out of work can sustain themselves as they seek a new job.
The Unemployment Insurance Modernization and Recession Readiness Act, introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Representative Don Beyer (D-VA), would strengthen this critical piece of social infrastructure by mandating that states offer at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, raising benefit amounts to replace a greater share of workers’ prior earnings, and increasing coverage for part-time workers, temp workers, and workers whose earnings fluctuate over time.
The bill also establishes a new, federally funded Jobseekers Allowance to support jobless workers who would not otherwise be covered by unemployment insurance and modernizes the Extended Benefits program by making additional weeks of unemployment benefits available in times of high unemployment.