• The unemployment rate for Black women and Black men is at its lowest level in over a year.
  • Black women’s gains were the driving force behind January’s decline in Black unemployment.
  • The tight labor market could be playing a part.

A worker works at the BMW manufacturing facility in Greer, South Carolina on October 19, 2022.
Reuters

Although the decrease in Black women’s unemployment is encouraging, labor experts warn that this trend should not be mistaken for false beliefs about equality in the workplace.

According to Friday’s seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for all Blacks has remained stable since August. It was 5.4% in January.

Black unemployment dropped by in January, driven by gains made by Black women . The unemployment rate that excludes teenagers fell to 4.7% in January from December’s 5.5%. Black men saw their unemployment rate rise to 5.3% in January, compared to 5.1% in December.

The unemployment rate for Black women and all Black people is at its lowest level in over a year. Black unemployment rates were below 5.5% in September 2019. Black women had sub-5% unemployment in November 2021.

From December to January, the unemployment rates for white, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino workers increased. Black workers still have the highest unemployment rate, even though they are less than white, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino workers.

“Sometimes people see improvement as positive but there are still disparities,” stated Kate Bahn, chief economist at Washington Center for Equitable Growth and director of labor market policy. “Convergence can be good but not all at once.”

Bahn stated that the higher rate could be attributed to anti-Black racism. Two examples she cited were the discrimination Black workers face when hiring and the higher likelihood of Black workers being laid off. She said that while a tight labor market may help to mitigate some of these problems for Black workers but policy changes are needed to create a more equitable labor market.

Black women had bigger gains in employment-to-population ratios, which show the number of people employed as a share of the broader population. Black men experienced a gain of 0.2 percentage points between December and January. Black women saw an increase of 1.1 percentage points.

Both groups reported an increase in active workers.

Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity, and the economy, stated that January can be a difficult month for trends to be drawn from, as the population data changes every year.

In actuality, Black women are more likely to be unemployed than white women, even though their share of the population is declining.

She suggested that the increase in employment could be at least partially attributed to tight labor markets. Analysts expected a 3.4% unemployment rate for January. This is the lowest level since May 1969.

Wilson stated that when you reach those low unemployment rates, we start to see more changes in groups with higher unemployment rates. Wilson said, “If you are still unemployed and you are still searching for a job,” then you’re more likely than others to be the person filling a new position.

Wilson stated that just because Black women and Black people are finding work at an increasing rate, it does not necessarily mean they are more fortunate. Wilson pointed out that wage growth is slowing and she was concerned about this. Additionally, the leisure and hospitality sector which Wilson stated can usually pay less than other industries added the most jobs in this month.

Wilson stated that it all depends on how you define or measure better off or hurt. There are more jobs for people who want to work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the jobs are of high quality.

She said, “I don’t believe any job is better that no job at all.” However, she stated, “But the fact you can find employment is at most a marginal improvement over having none.”