Racial disparity in Biden’s strong jobs report reveals more work needs to be done

EXCLUSIVE: While Black unemployment rate has dropped alongside the national rate, joblessness for the community remains disproportionately high.

US President Joe Biden speaks about the January jobs report from the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 4, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
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There is celebration over President Joe Biden’s job creation efforts as the administration has set a year one record of 6.6 million jobs. In addition to the strong jobs numbers, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has seen a drop. However, Black America continues to struggle as its jobless numbers are still more than double that of White America.

Since 1972, the year Shirley Chisholm ran on the Democratic ticket for President of the United States of America, the Black unemployment rate has always been higher than mainstream America. That year the Black jobless claims ranged from a high of 11.2% to 9.4 percent.  

Today, the Black unemployment rate is still higher than the national average of 4 percent. The Black jobless claims in January stood at 6.9%, down from 7.1% in December 2021.

The racial disparity in joblessness numbers sticks out as a gut punching blow to the Black community, according to National Economic Council Deputy Director Bharat Ramamurti

“Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Black workers have been the last to benefit from a strong and growing economy in the past. It’s something that we’re not satisfied with,” Ramamurti told theGrio. “But what I think you’re seeing now is the economy is doing so well, and there’s such incredible demand for workers across a number of sectors that all categories of workers are finding good opportunities.”

Data shows that the economy is in good standing in that workers are being paid higher wages and have options to consider upgrading from their current jobs. Instead of referring to this phenomenon as a “Great Resignation,” as used frequently by news media and economists in reference to the massive number of resignations across the country, Ramamurti prefers a more glass-half-full term: the “Great Upgrade.” 

People line up to attend a job fair for employment with SoFi Stadium and Los Angeles International Airport employers, at SoFi Stadium on September 9, 2021, in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity, and the economy, found that burnout for Black employees is a real factor as they are disproportionately front line workers.

“Based on pre-pandemic numbers, Black women were much more concentrated in health care and social assistance (29.6%) than leisure and hospitality (10%); about a third of Black women in health care were employed in hospitals, and roughly another third were in nursing care facilities or home health care services,” Wilson told theGrio

“These are clearly in-person jobs (limited telework or scheduling flexibility) in sectors where workers are reporting lots of burnout. One-fifth of Black women were also employed in the public sector.”

When it comes to Black women, the Biden administration is touting good news.

Gene Sperling, who serves as the White House’s coordinator on the American Rescue Plan, told theGrio, “We’ve seen, for example, Black women’s unemployment fall from 8.5% at the beginning of the recession to 5 percent…this is the largest fall in unemployment in Black and Hispanic unemployment in the first 10 months of any presidency we’ve seen. So this has been a powerful, positive effect.”

Concurrently there have been repeated calls for a targeted approach to fix the tremendously high Black unemployment numbers. Moreover, the disparity between Black and White unemployment rates extends beyond the official computing by the U.S. Department of Labor, as it dates back throughout history when Africans were enslaved as free labor. 

Shanikia Johnson, a three-year-olds teacher, helps Magjor Jones clean up a puzzle at Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland on January 12, 2021. (Photo by Matt Roth for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

However, the Biden White House says it is working diligently to change the racial divide in the financial and employment well being of Black communities. Sperling used the example of President Biden’s yet-to-be-passed Build Back Better plan as an attempt to lessen the burden for Black women who are disproportionately impacted by child care costs

“Another big part of [BBB] is raising wages for child care workers. And if you look at the data a disproportionate number of child care workers are Black women. And so if we can start raising wages in the child care sector, that’s going to have a meaningful impact on wages for Black female workers overall,” Sperling told theGrio.

These efforts to reduce the unemployment rate translates into a larger picture that plays into the midterm elections in November, according to Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher of Brilliant Corners.

“We’re coming out of the storm, you know, we’re creating jobs at a historical pace. The fundamentals of the economy are sound. I think [President Biden’s] got to go out there and start telling that story directly to Americans in battleground states,” Belcher told theGrio

“I think that is how you go about beginning to sort of shift the environment a little. So it’ll make those races down the ballot a little more reachable and winnable for Democrats across these states.”

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