Unemployment Rate for Educated Black Workers Lagged in March

The labor market is recovering, but not as strongly for Black workers.

The unemployment rate for Black Americans improved slightly last month, but at 9.6% is still higher than all other race groups tracked and the national average of 6%, according to data from the Labor Department released Friday. Gaps persist between Black and White workers, including among those who are highly educated, the data show.

Pandemic job cuts have disproportionately impacted minority communities, exacerbating the so-called K-shaped recovery that economists say could have consequences that last years. Now, as the economy reopens, policy makers including Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell are watching closely to see whether employment gains are benefiting all workers.

Unemployment Rate for Educated Black Workers Lagged in March

“It’s slack in the labor market,” Powell said in response to a question about high rates of Black unemployment during a March 17 press conference. “It’s sad to see, because those disparities had really come down to record lows,” before the pandemic.

The disparate impact on Black Americans reflects systemic discrimination, according to some economists. Case in point: Even Black workers with more education are faring worse than their White peers.

In March, the unemployment rate for Black workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 4.7%, compared to 3.6% for White Americans, according to Labor Department data that’s not seasonally adjusted. To be sure, that gap did shrink from the prior month. The disparity is nearly double between Black and White workers who graduated high school, the data show.

“If even the best-educated Black person doesn’t do as well in the economy, then that must be discrimination,” said William Spriggs, chief economist at the AFL-CIO.

President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package will help, some experts say. But other policies, such as raising the minimum wage and student loan forgiveness, are needed to close unemployment and wealth gaps, said Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives.

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