U.S. Economy Created 379K Jobs, Mostly Service Sector, But Black Unemployment Still High At 9.9% And Rising

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Black unemployment
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask passes shuttered storefronts as restrictions on operations are imposed due to a covid-19 infection rate increase, Oct. 15, 2020, in Far Rockaway, Queens, New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen for everyone except Black people, according to the first full monthly employment report under President Joe Biden.

Black unemployment rose to 9.9 percent in February, the highest among all race groups tracked, while the overall U.S. jobless rate fell to 6.2 percent, Bloomberg reported. White, Hispanic and Asian American workers saw declines, the Labor Department said Friday.

The U.S. economy added 379,000 jobs in February, showing signs of recovery, NBC reported.

“The elevated Black unemployment rate is a concern for the overall economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at Glassdoor, in a Wall Street Journal report. “Historically, we know Black workers tend to be the first fired and last hired.”

The economic gains don’t tell the story of people who have been unable to work because of health, child care obligations, and lost jobs in sectors devastated by the pandemic.

“The unemployment rate itself is a bad descriptor of the current labor market conditions,” said Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

Nearly 60 percent of jobs lost since the onset of covid-19 have been recovered, but labor force participation rate shows another story, according to Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes. “When you go and look at the participation rate … it is slower,” he said.

Covid-19 devastated service industries and low-paying jobs such as travel, dining, entertainment and retail. College-educated people lost proportionately fewer jobs and regained more of them. Lower-paid, lower-educated workers were left behind.

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Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said in February that the real unemployment rate is closer to 10 percent, and labor force participation rate — which was 63.4 percent in February 2020, when unemployment was 3.5 percent — reflects that.

“My guess is we won’t see that again until late 2022,” said Bob Phillips, co-founder of Spectrum Management Group.

About 40 percent of U.S. jobless — about 4 million people — are classified as long-term unemployed. They have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. “History shows they’ll never make up for this time because they’ll never make up for the lost skill sets they haven’t acquired by working,” Phillips said.

It took nearly 10 years after the last economic recovery began in 2009, for the unemployment rate gap to narrow between Black and white workers.

Early this year, job openings on the internet had returned to pre-pandemic levels, indicating building demand for labor, WSJ reported.