As companies in the United States begin to reopen amid the Covid-19-related economic collapse, overall US unemployment rates have improved, according to the May Department of Labor jobs report. But while the unemployment rate fell for most groups, it rose slightly for black Americans.
The economy gained about 2.5 million jobs in May, as the unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent from a high of 14.7 percent in April, according to Data from the Ministry of Labor released Thursday.
Despite the upswing, these are still the worst job numbers since the Great Depression. Overall, however, the numbers were considered good news, especially as economists estimated that about 7 million jobs would be lost in May, and the recovery would not begin until states and businesses reopen. Many economists predicted there would not be a V-shaped recovery, meaning sharp losses followed by quick wins, which would look like a V on the employment cards. While the U.S. economy is far from fully recovered, that’s exactly what job growth looked like on Friday.
The statistics were perceived as so positive that President Donald Trump suggested Friday that George Floyd, a black worker who lost his job because of the pandemic before dying at the hands of Minneapolis police, would “smile” at declining unemployment rates.
But not everyone benefited from an improving economy: black unemployment rose slightly, to 16.8 percent, up 0.1 percent from last month. According to the Labor Statistics BureauThis means that 3.3 million black Americans were unemployed in May, compared to 3.2 million in April and 1.2 million in January.
Asian Americans also did not benefit from overall declining unemployment – the unemployment rate for that community increased slightly, from April to May, by 0.5 percentage points to 15 percent. Instead, profits were largely driven by white workers, whose unemployment rate fell from 14.9 percent in April to 12.4 percent in May. The unemployment rate for Latinx workers fell slightly to 17.6 percent, from 18.9 percent in April.
One reason for these results is that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the hospitality, service and retail job markets particularly hard, all of which employ disproportionately Black and Latinx workers. Black unemployment is likely to be even greater, except that people of color are generally overrepresented among workers considered essential, such as transit workers and supermarkets.
Still, according to Department of Labor data, less than half of the black workforce is currently employed, making it difficult in many cases to pay ordinary bills right now – a Pew study conducted in April found that 48 percent of black Americans reported problems paying bills, most of any ethnic group.
The poor number of jobs is set amid other crises within the black community
In addition to beating black workers in their pockets, the pandemic has also had a disproportionate effect on the health of black people. According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black people are affected by Covid-19 much faster than their white counterparts.
Nationally, about 30 percent of Covid-19 patients are black, although black people make up only 13 percent of the total population. Black people’s susceptibility to the virus has been shaped by a long history of discrimination and marginalization in access to health care, as Anna North of Vox explained:
[B]lack Americans are more likely to have underlying conditions as a result of widespread racism and inequality, experts say. Many disparities in health outcomes in America are “caused by access to things like enough time to prepare healthy food at home” and “enough money to avoid working three shifts and have really high stress levels,” said Lynch – access to white people more likely to have. As [Fabiola] Cineas notes that 22 percent of black Americans lived in poverty in 2018, compared to 9 percent of white Americans.
In addition to poverty, a number of factors contribute to the ill health of black people, from racism in medical settings to the physical health effects of discrimination. Redlining and other forms of housing discrimination have made black Americans more likely to live in neighborhoods affected by environmental pollution, with federal and state officials responding slowly, increasing the number of chronic diseases.
These economic and health crises are under the spotlight in yet another crisis: that of police brutality. There have been massive protests that partially demonstrate against such violence caused by the death of Floyd – a man who had Covid-19 lost his job because of the pandemic and was subsequently killed by police. Acknowledging these three crises: health, economy, and existence have led Americans to quarantine and potentially threaten their own health related to the virus, to protest police brutality and racism in general – including the type of systemic racism that leads to jobs like those on Friday.