Racial employment divide continues in the recovery of the US economy
As vaccines help quell cases of Covid-19, millions of Americans have returned to work – but fewer black and Hispanic workers are being rehired, reinforcing lingering inequalities in the United States.
Divides are fueled by long-standing employment discrimination, experts say, compounded by unique disruptions linked to the virus that have prevented many job seekers from finding work they could access or feel secure .
“We haven’t really addressed these underlying power disparities in the economy,” said Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
After skyrocketing to 14.7% in April 2020 when trade restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus were at their peak, the U.S. unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in June, according to the Labor Department.
But the gains were not shared equally: the unemployment rate for black workers was 9.2% and for Hispanics 7.4%, compared to 5.2% for whites.
Racial and ethnic employment gaps in the world’s largest economy were present even when unemployment was at an all time high before the pandemic.
In Washington, the issue is receiving renewed attention from President Joe Biden, who has presented massive spending plans that he says will help reshape the economy and make it more inclusive.
And the Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates low longer to increase the hiring of racial minorities – which took nearly a decade after the 2008 global financial crisis.
“We all do better when the pie is bigger, and we make the pie bigger by being aggressive about it,” William Spriggs, chief economist of the AFL-CIO union federation, told AFP.
– ‘Fixed disparity’ –
The Labor Department is due to release the latest jobs report on Friday, which some economists say will show the economy to gain more than a million jobs in July, lowering the unemployment rate to 5.6% as it progresses. that more businesses will reopen.
Data for June showed white female unemployment at 5%, despite job losses last year at about the same rate as black workers, who saw much slower rehires. The trend is similar for Hispanics.
“There is a fixed disparity between blacks and whites in terms of rehiring,” Spriggs said.
A higher proportion of black women than white women are looking for work, but the country’s large and small businesses nonetheless complain that they cannot find people to fill the vacancies, especially skilled workers.
“These employers are all screaming that we can’t find workers, we can’t find workers. Black women are more available and yet they don’t hire them,” Spriggs said.
“This is discrimination. Until we take hiring discrimination and discrimination in the labor market seriously, we simply cannot move forward.”
Researchers attribute the disparity to the factors that push black and Hispanic workers into lower-paying jobs and often put them most at risk of contracting Covid-19.
– The virus remains a threat –
Walter L. Simmons, president and CEO of the nonprofit Employ Prince George’s, which serves a predominantly black and Hispanic county outside of Washington, said ongoing pandemic disruptions are preventing some people from taking a employment or even looking for work.
Bus and ride-sharing services have not yet returned to normal, which means many job seekers often cannot get to work. Child custody has also been reduced, so working parents have to figure out what to do with their children.
Many people in Prince George County live with extended families and may be reluctant to take a job where they are at risk of infection, Simmons said – a fear that has grown as the highly infectious Delta variant spreads. propagates.
“These are three areas that we see no one really has an answer for. They just say get back to work,” Simmons said in an interview.
For now, the unemployed can survive on extended unemployment benefits authorized by the federal government, which pay some low-wage workers more than their previous jobs.
About two dozen states have ended these benefits, and in September they expire across the country.
Simmons fears what might happen next.
“Those who were struggling before the pandemic, they’re really going to fight,” he said.
© 2021 AFP