Posted December 3, 2021
NATIONWIDE—The unemployment rate in November fell to 4.2%, according to this morning’s monthly jobs report. The unemployment rate for Black workers declined significantly, from 8.3% in October to 6.7% in November, but remained significantly above the 3.7% unemployment rate for white workers. The unemployment rate for Latinx workers was 5.2%, and the unemployment rate for Asian workers was 3.8%.
Overall, 210,000 jobs were added in November. Yet, 6.9 million people remain unemployed. Since September 6, when Congress allowed pandemic unemployment benefits to expire, millions of jobless workers have lost access to unemployment insurance benefits.
“The unemployment rate remains nearly twice as high for Black workers as for white workers,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Yet Black workers—especially in the South—face an unemployment insurance system that is set up to underpay and exclude them. Federal pandemic unemployment benefits temporarily expanded support to workers who were shut out of state systems. Now that these benefits have been allowed to expire, it’s clearer than ever that federal reform of unemployment insurance benefits is a racial justice imperative.”
The loss of access to expanded and enhanced federal benefits was a blow to jobless workers across the country, but evidence suggests Black workers in Southern states experienced the most devastating harm. Southern states—where a majority of Black workers live and work—were among the first to curtail federal unemployment benefits, and their regular state unemployment programs provide the lowest average benefits, have reduced the maximum length of time that benefits are available, and include some of the nation’s most restrictive rules to qualify for and retain unemployment benefits.
As a result of restrictive rules that disproportionately exclude workers of color, a recent investigative report by Bloomberg News found that Black workers who applied for regular state unemployment benefits in Georgia saw their applications denied at more than twice the rate of white workers. Racial disparities in Georgia were much lower when Black workers applied for the federal pandemic programs that are now terminated: among Black workers in Georgia, only 47% of those who applied for regular state unemployment benefits were approved, compared to an approval rate of 95% for the now-discontinued federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
Nationally, the disparity between unemployment rates for white and Black men was particularly stark in November. Just 3.4% of white men aged 20 years and over were unemployed, compared to 7.3% of Black men of the same age. These disparities are a result of structural racism embedded in the U.S. labor market.
Workers and communities organized and elected political leaders to deliver a just and inclusive recovery from the pandemic recession. The positive impact of pandemic unemployment insurance benefits on households, communities, and state economies is now clear. Yet now that Congress allowed these benefits to expire, workers need permanent reform. It’s not too late for the Senate to add Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act to 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. It does so by providing at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider 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.