Black Unemployment Tumbled to a 50-Year Low in March

For the first time in at least 20 years, the employment-to-population ratio of Black workers exceeded that of White workers.

Alice Morgan/Investopedia

The unemployment rate for Black workers fell to a 50-year low in March.

March's unemployment rate for Black workers was 5%, a low not seen since 1972, according to data released Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number is a long way from the all-time high of 21.2% in January 1983, which occurred in the aftermath of the early 1980s recession. Unemployment rates for Black women were even lower at 4.2%.

This compares to an overall unemployment rate of 3.5% in March and a 3.2% rate for White workers. Historically, the unemployment rate for Black workers has trended above the national average, and typically roughly double that of White workers. Unemployment among Hispanic or Latino workers for the month was 4.6%, while for Asian workers it was 2.8%.

For the first time in at least 20 years, the employment-to-population ratio of Black workers exceeded that of White workers. In March, the share of the Black population who held a job was 60.9%, marginally higher than 60.4% for all workers and 60.2% for white workers.

While this is a step toward closing the employment gap, there is a long way to go before the economic disparity can be bridged.

"For Black workers, disparities in employment outcomes are rooted in the United States’ history of structural racism, which curtails employment opportunities through many policies and practices such as unequal school funding, mass incarceration, and hiring discrimination," wrote researchers at the nonpartisan think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities when talking about the most recent recession sparked by COVID-19.

Black workers could be among the most severely impacted if the economy enters another recession this year, as they are typically the last hired and the first fired, according to researchers. Black workers may also be subject to higher interest rates for mortgages and consumer loans, which could lead to financial hardship in the event of a recession.

Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment Situation Summary: March 2023."

  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Employment–population ratio."

  3. National Library of Medicine. "Last Hired, First Fired? Black-White Unemployment and the Business Cycle."

  4. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The Unequal Costs of Black Homeownership."

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