U.S. unemployment rate falls in December but rises for Black women

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  • The unemployment rate for all American workers except black women fell in December.
  • The Labor Department reported that the overall unemployment rate fell to 3.9% last month from 4.2% in November
  • The unemployment rate for black women rose to 6.2 percent from 4.9 percent in December.
  • The rise in the black female unemployment rate in December follows a nearly 2 percentage point drop in November.

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The unemployment rate for all American workers except black women fell in December.

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The Labor Department said Friday that headline hiring numbers were much lower than expected in December, but the overall unemployment rate last month stood at 3.9 percent, up from 4.2 percent in November.

However, the unemployment rate for black women rose to 6.2% from 4.9% last month – the only race and gender group whose unemployment rate worsened in December.

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The increase in the unemployment rate among black women in December follows a nearly 2 percent drop in November. Some economists saw this decrease as a cautionary sign of improvement for job-seeking black women.

"The data for small demographic groups is very volatile," said Alice Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "We need to look at longer-term trends to see what's happening."

The unemployment rate for black women has fallen from 8.5% in early 2021.

"We're certainly seeing an improvement in the black unemployment rate over the long term ... but it's still pretty high," Gould said.

According to Nicole Mason, president and CEO of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, the disparity in unemployment progression for black women speaks to unequal labor-force recovery during the COVID pandemic.

“The December numbers indicated to me that we are in for a bumpy ride ahead in terms of our recovery, particularly for black women and women of color who have been disproportionately affected during the pandemic,” said Mason. he said. ,

The overall unemployment rate for women was 3.6% in December, 2.6 percent lower than that of black women.

Mason said the December report also did not reflect the full impact of the current surge in COVID cases resulting from the Omicron variant, particularly as the outbreak loomed large with school and daycare openings.

"We won't understand Omicron's effect on job numbers or the unemployment of women re-entering the workforce until January or February," Mason said.

For all black workers, the unemployment rate in December was 7.1% – more than double that of white workers at 3.2%. The roughly two-to-one ratio for black versus white unemployment has been consistent throughout history, economists have found.

“Discrimination and occupational segregation and all other related factors mean that outcomes for black workers are worse in the labor market than for white workers. This historically translates into a higher unemployment rate that results in a higher unemployment rate for white workers throughout the occupation. That's about two times the comparison cycle," Gold said.

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