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Black workers are seeing relief from a pandemic that’s created the highest national rates of unemployment since the Great Recession.
January’s jobless rate painted a picture of steady growth as President Biden argues the economy is improving. First reported by Bloomberg, Black unemployment dropped to 6.9%, according to seasonally adjusted figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for Black men was 7.1% and 5.8% for Black women specifically.
The gains come after December showed Blacks were making gains at slower rates than other racial groups.
“We are finally building an American economy for the 21st century, with the fastest economic growth in nearly four decades, along with the greatest year of job growth in American history,” Pres. Biden said near the end of January.
Race remains a factor in unemployment rates
Unemployment both generally and broken down by race is a story of ebbs and flows. Yet, the rate for Black workers stubbornly remains higher than the national average and double the unemployment rate for White workers.
With inflation at a decades-high, the jobless numbers haven’t satisfied many Americans. Still, it’s a welcome sign that the economy may be headed in the right direction after a painfully high Black unemployment rate of 20% in April 2020.
The pandemic has led to what’s being called the “Great Resignation,” with many workers switching jobs or starting their own businesses. Today, some workers are wielding bargaining power like never before. Still, the disparity between the Black and White unemployment rate continues to remain a thorn in the side of families seeking a stable income and a president who ran on uplifting the Black community.
As a candidate, Biden pledged to “advance the economic mobility of African Americans and close the racial wealth and income gaps.”
And while the jobless numbers prove Blacks are making gains in the economy, Biden still hasn’t managed to reach the Black unemployment rate of 5.1% achieved in November 2019.
That number was reached during the administration of former twice-impeached president Donald Trump. Yet, Trump, one of the most verbally hostile presidents toward the Black community, didn’t achieve those numbers on his own.
Biden cut Black unemployment at a faster rate than Obama
Data from the St. Louis Fed shows that under Obama’s administration, the Black unemployment rate was eventually cut in half. It fell from a high of 18.1% in 2010 down to 7.3% by January 2017, when Trump took office. Riding the economic growth achieved in Obama’s last few years, Trump’s administration managed to shave off the Black unemployment rate by an additional few percentage points.
It’s worth pointing out, Obama cut the rate in half over a period of seven years. Meanwhile, Biden managed to cut it by a larger percentage in less than two years.
Yet, racial discrimination, less access to jobs, and other issues continue to contribute to the unemployment rate across racial groups. For instance, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has remained double that of Whites, no matter who is president and no matter how well the economy is doing.
“We have got to do more,” White House economic aide Jared Bernstein said in January. “While that inequity has existed for some time…we don’t just accept [it] as being a facet of nature … It’s one of our mandates from the president.”