By Eric Morath
From advanced-degree holders to high-school dropouts, Black
workers have substantially higher unemployment rates at every level
of educational attainment than white workers -- and the disparity
has widened this year during the economic downturn caused by the
coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns.
The expanding gap signals Black Americans can expect to have a
longer and slower recovery from the 2020 economic recession,
regardless of whether they have attended college or not completed
Black workers with just a bachelor's degree had a 6.1% average
unemployment rate in the 12 months ended in October, according to
the Labor Department. That was higher than the 4.8% unemployment
rate for white workers with just a bachelor's degree, and exactly
matched the jobless rate for white people with associate
The disparity widens for those with less education. Black
workers with only a high-school diploma had a 12.1% average
unemployment rate over the past year, above the 7.4% rate for
similar white workers, and above the 10.1% rate for white
Black workers also have a higher unemployment rate at each level
of educational attainment than Latino workers, but the disparity is
"Frequently, Black workers need to send additional signals about
their qualifications to get the same job," said Bradley Hardy, an
economist at American University in Washington. "That's why you'll
see a Black person with a master's degree in a job that only
requires a bachelor's."
Such gaps have broad implications for the U.S. economy's path
ahead, indicating it isn't fully using its resources, which limits
its current and future growth, economists say.
"Elevated unemployment, and high levels of unemployment across
demographic groups including Black Americans, signals an economy
operating below full potential," Mr. Hardy said.
The jobless disparity between Blacks and whites increased this
In October, the 12-month average unemployment rate for whites
with a bachelor's degree or higher was 1.2 percentage points lower
than that for Black grads, among those 25 years or older, according
to Labor Department data. For those with just high-school diplomas,
the gap was 4.7 percentage points.
Both gaps have widened since the middle of last year. In June
2019, the 12-month average unemployment rate for whites with at
least a bachelor's was 0.7 percentage point lower than that for
similar Black grads, matching the narrowest gap since 2002. That,
in part, reflects that Black workers disproportionately held jobs
that were lost this year, including in the transportation,
hospitality and retail sectors.
There are several factors, economists say, that explain the
long-term discrepancy between Black and white unemployment.
Black Americans more frequently attend lower-quality elementary
and high schools in racially segregated neighborhoods, which may
leave them less prepared to succeed in college or at their first
jobs, said Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University.
Black workers with disproportionately lower skills and higher
unemployment levels won't be as productive as possible, Mr. Holzer
said, limiting how much the economy can expand.
Black workers also can lack access to better, more stable jobs
because they may not have the network of contacts to know about
them, or they may face challenges like lack of access to
transportation or child care, he said.
Problems associated with frequent and extended periods of
unemployment can compound. "Employers become more skeptical that
people are employable," Mr. Holzer said. "People become depressed,
may develop health or substance-abuse problems...and they can
engage in more illegal activity."
Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College of Criminal
Justice in New York, said Black men, in particular, are
overrepresented in nonmanagerial jobs in industries susceptible to
swings in the economy, such as construction and manufacturing. That
means they are more likely to be laid off throughout their
Another factor is apparent discrimination, said both Ms. Holder
and Mr. Holzer. "There are negative penalties in the labor market
associated with gender and race that can't be explained by anything
else," said Ms. Holder, who researches economic disparities between
racial and gender groups.
That discrimination can take the form of direct bias against an
individual and structural factors such as access to quality
education, health care and generational wealth, she said.
Black employees with full-time jobs also earn substantially less
than similarly educated white workers. Last year, median weekly
earnings for a white worker with at least a bachelor's degree was
$1,380, according to Labor Department data. Pay for similar Black
grads was 20% lower, or $1,110 a week. Black workers with only
high-school diplomas earned $635 a week last year, below the $778
earned by white peers, and nearly in line with the $604 a week
earned by white high-school dropouts with full-time jobs.
Lower earnings and weaker employment prospects for Black workers
have costs for society overall, Ms. Holder said. It means fewer
dollars are earned, spent and taxed in Black communities. Higher
rates of unemployment and poverty are associated with less stable
families, higher rates of incarceration and worse health outcomes.
The people living in those communities often require additional
public assistance, such as food stamps and Medicaid.
"One way or another, America will bear the burden of this," she
said. "Higher incarceration, higher Covid-19 deaths of Black
people, more tax dollars spent. The bill will come due."
Write to Eric Morath at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 29, 2020 05:44 ET (10:44 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.