Gap in unemployment rates for Black, white Americans hits 5-year high

The gap between the U.S. unemployment rates for Black people and white people widened further in June, to its largest in five years, underscoring the uneven nature of the nascent recovery from historic job losses triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Jobless rates for both groups fell in June, but the rate for white people came down at a much faster rate. The white unemployment rate fell 2.3 percentage points to 10.1 per cent from 12.4 per cent, while the rate for Blacks dropped 1.4 points to 15.4 per cent from 16.8 per cent.

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At 5.3 percentage points, the gap is now the widest since May 2015 and exposes an important economic component of racial inequality at a pivotal moment in U.S. race relations. In recent weeks, the country has witnessed protests over police brutality against African Americans, particularly Black men.

The coronavirus pandemic brought an abrupt end to the record-long U.S. economic expansion just as it was creating better job opportunities for Black workers and other minorities. Job losses fell hardest on women and workers of colour.

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The overall drop in the Black unemployment rate in June was driven by a rise in the number of women returning to work as bars, restaurants and retail stores re-opened, reversing some job losses they suffered in March and April.

The unemployment rate for Black men rose in June to 16.3 per cent, the highest level since the fall of 2011, from 15.5 per cent in May. In contrast, the unemployment rate for Black women dropped to 14 per cent from 16.5 per cent in May.

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The widening spread between racial group jobless rates in the last two months has undone years of gains that slowly narrowed the gap in unemployment rates between Black people and white people.

Last August, the unemployment rate for Black workers dropped to a record low of 5.4 per cent and the gap between Black and white workers narrowed to 2 points, the narrowest since the U.S. Labor Department retooled its measurement of employment by race in 1972.

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Women hit hardest from unemployment during pandemic

Black workers now have the highest unemployment rate compared to other racial or ethnic groups.

The unemployment rate for Hispanic workers dropped to 14.5 per cent in June from 17.6 per cent in May. The unemployment rate for Asian workers dropped to 13.8 per cent from 15 per cent.

© 2020 Reuters

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