Sep 28, 2019

Chart: African-Americans jumping back faster into the workforce

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Note: Seasonally adjusted; Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Noa Yadidi/Axios

Jobless African-Americans are taking full-time work at a faster rate than unemployed whites, amid a more favorable economy for a population whose prospects have historically been dimmer than for other races.

Why it matters: A strong economy does not undo racism, and the same hurdles that make it difficult to find work have not disappeared. But a tighter labor market forces employers to look outside their usual pool of candidates to find workers.

  • Historically, joblessness disappears faster for whites, so the length of the economic recovery — the second-longest in history — is also key.
  • Black unemployment was significantly higher than white joblessness during the Great Recession. So black Americans have a lot more to rebound from. A steady, strengthening economy allows the time to do that.

The population we're talking about is non-institutionalized, but if it did include people in prison, the percentages might be even closer, since the rate of black people in prison is falling.

Between the lines: This dynamic — the convergence of the white and black employment-to-population ratios — is occurring despite wages not growing as much as they could be, said William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO.

Though the gap has narrowed in recent months, pay for black Americans is still significantly less than other races.

  • One example: Median weekly earnings for white, full-time workers is $933, while black Americans made $724, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • "[Black Americans] are responding to low wages, but white people aren't," Spriggs told Axios.

Another economist agreed.

  • "There is some truth to the fact that if it's difficult to get a job or secure a job in a good or bad economy, you're not going to be extremely overly picky about it," said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute's Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.

The bottom line: Black American unemployment is at a record low, but remains almost double that of white unemployment, which is at 3.4%. Still, black people are locking down more jobs now than in the past — or at least feeling confident enough to try.

Original story: Black people are jumping back faster into the workforce (10/06/18)

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