Black women see unemployment rate fall sharply in November, but are still left behind in overall labor market recovery

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  • The unemployment rate for black women fell from 7% to 5% in November – the biggest drop compared to other race and gender groups in the jobs report.
  • “This is the first time that Black labor force participation has been rewarded with real job growth,” said economist William Spriggs.
  • However, overall employment for black women is still 4.2% behind pre-pandemic levels, lagging behind all groups.

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The unemployment rate for black women fell sharply in November, but the labor market’s recovery from pre-pandemic levels remains uneven across race and gender lines.

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The Labor Department reported Friday that headline numbers for job growth in November were lower than expected, but the unemployment rate for US workers fell from 4.6% in October to 4.2% last month.

For black women, the employment picture showed an even greater improvement. The unemployment rate for black women fell from 7% to 5% in November – the biggest drop compared to other race and gender groups in the jobs report.

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And while black women left the workforce in November, the employment to population ratio among black women increased in the past month. According to economists, this indicates that the decline in the unemployment rate can be attributed more to job-seekers than to workers exiting the labor force.

Black men also saw an improvement in employment last month, and the unemployment rate fell to 7.3% in November from 8.3%.

"This is the first time black labor force participation has been rewarded with real job growth," said William Spriggs, AFL-CIO chief economist and Harvard University professor. "The fact that black workers are now showing more success in their searches -- that's good news."

The improvement in the black unemployment rate in November is particularly noteworthy, given that labor market reforms for black Americans have lagged other groups during the pandemic.

However, Spriggs reported that the unemployment rate for workers without a high school diploma fell from 7.4% in November to 5.7%, lower than the 6.7% unemployment rate for black workers of all educational levels.

"Yes, employers are finally hiring black workers. They're still last in the queue," Spriggs said.

Looking at overall employment compared to pre-pandemic levels, black women lag behind. Black female employment in November was still 4.2% lower than in February 2020, while overall employment for the US was down 2.2% from pre-pandemic levels.

"The pace of recovery is still uneven. This was a month where we saw a significant drop in the unemployment rate, especially for black women," said Valerie Wilson, a director at the Economic Policy Institute. "Otherwise, we continue to see known and established inequalities in unemployment rates."

Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Women's Policy and Research Institute, said industries dominated by women workers have been slow to recover jobs lost during the pandemic.

For example, the retail industry lost more than 20,000 jobs in November, while most sectors reported job growth.

"We've seen tremendous job growth in construction and male-dominated sectors like manufacturing and transportation, but in female-dominated sectors things are too stagnant or we've lost jobs," Mason said.

Furthermore, COVID continues to impact job recovery, especially as Americans monitor growth with the new COVID Omron version.

"A lot is riding on our public health response and how quickly we are able to address it so that the economy can fully recover and that recovery reaches everyone," Wilson said.

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