The Labor Department’s jobs report for May shows the unemployment rate fell to 13.3%, with another 2.5 million workers losing their jobs last month.
When the economy turns bad, though, as this one has, job losses often hit Black workers the hardest. Their unemployment rate ticked up in May to 16.8%, from 16.7% in April. White workers saw their unemployment rate drop from 14.2% in April to 12.4% in May.
Historically, through good times and bad, Black workers have suffered higher unemployment than white workers — typically, about twice as high.
And layoffs in the pandemic have hit hard in service occupations where Black workers are heavily represented: hospitality, food service, health care and retail.
Meanwhile, according to the Labor Department, only 20% of Black employees have jobs that allow them to work from home, compared to 30% of white employees.
Valerie Wilson at the Economic Policy Institute says those are most likely professional, office-type jobs.
“Given occupational segregation, African Americans are less likely to be in those higher-paid occupations,” Wilson said. “That in large part accounts for the disparity in the share of African American workers able to work remotely during this time.”
She also says Black households are more likely to have just a single wage-earner to depend on.
“When you lose your job, all of the resources available to that household go,” Wilson said. “It’s unlikely anyone who loses a job now will be able to quickly find another one.”
Meanwhile, African American households went into this crisis with less to fall back on.
Economist Gary Hoover at the University of Oklahoma estimates the median wealth of white households is five times or more higher than that of Black households.
And, after the Great Recession, “[white people] recovered faster, were able then to increase assets and savings, that in the current crisis will help them fare much better,” Hoover said. “[Black people] being in that precarious spot with much lower wealth are going to have a difficult time if this pandemic goes on much longer.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, Black workers earn about 20% less per hour than white workers, whether they have a high school diploma, bachelor’s degree or advanced degree.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?
The latest: President Donald Trump signed an executive action directing $400 extra a week in unemployment benefits. But will that aid actually reach people? It’s still unclear. Trump directed federal agencies to send $300 dollars in weekly aid, taken from the federal disaster relief fund, and called on states to provide an additional $100. But states’ budgets are stretched thin as it is.
What’s the latest on evictions?
For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.
Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?
Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.
You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.
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