Posted October 8, 2021
Today’s monthly jobs report reveals a job market that has not yet fully recovered, especially for Black workers. On September 6, Congress allowed pandemic unemployment benefits that supported millions of workers to expire, but the crisis didn’t end on schedule. Today’s lackluster job creation numbers vividly illustrate why the nation needs permanent reform to build an unemployment system that will support workers in good times and bad, not temporary programs with arbitrary expiration dates.
The economy added 194,000 jobs in September and the unemployment rate decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 4.8%. The number of unemployed people fell to 7.7 million. Despite these gains, the unemployment rate remains substantially above the February 2020 pre-pandemic low of 3.5%.
While unemployment declined for Black men (8.0% unemployed) and Black women (7.3% unemployed), Black unemployment rates are still nearly twice as high as the rates for white men (4.2%) and women (3.7%). The unemployment rate for Latinx workers (6.3%) also remains elevated. These disparities are a result of structural racism embedded in the U.S. labor market and have been further worsened by a pandemic that disproportionately impacted service sector jobs where workers of color are overrepresented.
The public health crisis continued to keep 6.6 million people out of work in September: 5.0 million workers reported that they were unable to work because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic, a decrease of 10% from August. An additional 1.6 million people were not in the labor force at all because they were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, little changed from last month. Yet, while COVID-19 was still impeding people’s ability to work in September, the critical public supports that enabled people to get by were suddenly eliminated.
“Emergency pandemic unemployment benefits are now gone, but it’s clear that unemployed workers still need support,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “The nation’s uneven economic recovery—including a Black unemployment rate that remains twice as high as the rate for white workers—should be a strong sign to policymakers that arbitrary cutoffs of unemployment assistance are an abandonment of working people. Workers need enduring, structural reform to build a system that will support them in good times and bad, not temporary programs with senseless expiration dates. Congress must act to fix the unemployment insurance system permanently.”
Workers and communities organized and elected political leaders to deliver a just and inclusive recovery from the pandemic recession. Now is their time to deliver. Congress must include Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, which will begin to address some significant ways the unemployment insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities by providing at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider a workers’ most recent earnings and standardizing earning requirements. These reforms lay the groundwork for a transformed unemployment insurance system that will enable all workers to thrive.