Even though Black women lost ground in the labor market last month, the unemployment rate for Black workers dipped below 8 percent for the first time since January 2017, according to the latest jobs report from the Labor Department.
Not only did the unemployment (UE) rate for Black workers improve, the labor force participation rate (LFPR), which is the share of people in the labor market who have jobs or who are looking for work, also moved in a positive direction. The labor force participation rate for Black workers increased from 62.3 percent in March to 62.5 percent in April. The employment-population ratio (E-POP), or the share of the population with jobs, climbed a few notches from 57.3 percent to 57.6 percent in April.
The jobless rate for White workers decreased from 3.9 percent in March to 3.8 percent in April, and so did the labor force participation rate. The E-POP for White workers was flat.
April was a good month for Black men over 20 years old; the three main indicators (UE, LFPR and E-POP) all moved in positive directions. The unemployment rate for that group improved from 8.2 percent in March to 7.3 percent last month.
April’s jobs report was a tough one for Black women over 20 years old. For the third month in a row, the labor force rate for Black working women was flat at (62.7 percent). The E-POP took a few steps back from the 58.6 percent mark set in March to 58.4 percent in April. The unemployment rate for Black women increased from 6.6 percent to 6.9 percent in April.
Economists say that the measures of labor market indicators for minority subgroups are more prone to wild swings, because the survey sample sizes are smaller for minority workers compared to the sample size for White workers. Economists also say that the public shouldn’t make much out of a single job report and should instead watch for trends.
One of those trends, was an increase in “annual work hours for all workers, especially low-wage African American workers and women,” from 1979 to 2015, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a think tank focused on the needs of low- and middle-income workers.
In a recent post on EPI’s website, Valerie Rawlston Wilson, the director of the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE) for the think tank, noted that working moms were “significant contributors to this trend.” More than half of all Black female workers are moms compared to roughly 44 percent of White female workers.
“African-American working moms are uniquely central to the economic well-being of their families,” wrote Wilson. “To begin with, more than two-thirds of all African American working mothers are single moms, making them the primary, if not sole, economic providers for their families. By comparison, 29.6 percent of white working mothers and 47.9 percent of Hispanic working mothers are single.”
Black married women with children also worked more hours per year and earned less money per hour than White married women with children, according to EPI.
“What’s behind this greater attachment to the labor force? For African American women, it may have to do with higher rates of Black unemployment and racial pay and wealth disparities motivating the greater intensity of work relative to other groups,” wrote Wilson. “Economic policy has unquestionably failed single working mothers, who tend to work fewer hours in lower-wage jobs and often lack necessary family work supports like paid leave, health care and retirement benefits, affordable high quality child care and more predictable work scheduling.”
The Labor Department will release its next jobs report on June 2.