Despite what’s being called a recovery from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Black women and Black teens 16-19 are facing greater hardship in the workplace.
According to a report on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s findings by the Brookings Institution, from November 2020 to November 2021 there was an overall positive trend for employment. However, the Black teen unemployment rate jumped from 16.1 percent in October 2021 to 21.9 percent in November 2021, a rate that is 12.6 percentage points higher than the current rate for white teens. Black teens have the highest 13-month average unemployment rate, at 17.15 percent.
Retail and hospitality- industries that are the primary employers of teens—have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Restaurants and retail outlets have reopened but are struggling to hire and retain all workers. Despite these likely employment opportunities, these openings do not seem to be benefiting Black teens.
But the biggest news is the dramatic drop in the number of Black women in the labor force--a phenomenon likely driven by ongoing disruptions to child care. Beyond this change to labor force participation, ongoing concerns include the effects of inflation and the uncertainties of the pandemic with the arrival of the omicron variant.
The return to in-person school instruction for most of the kids in the US has coincided with a huge increase in Black women exiting the labor force. Between October and November, the labor force participation rate for Black women dropped to 60.3 percent, a 1.5 percentage point dip which effectively erases the gains from earlier in the year.
Black women have been overrepresented in areas like hospitality and nursing and other occupations that require direct person-to-person contact. Although BLS figures show that the overall unemployment rate for Black women fell from 7 percent to five percent, that still does not necessarily mean more have found employment.
A total of 181,000 Black women have left the workforce since September, with more than half (91,000) exiting in November alone. This reversal in labor force reentry is unique to Black women, as women in other racial-ethnic groups continued to regain their footing in the workforce.
“That drop in unemployment is in part because people are getting jobs, but also in part because people are leaving the labor force,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute told the nonprofit news website The19th.