In news that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, black and brown workers were disproportionately hit by job losses last month, according to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In the Employment Situation report (pdf) for March released on Friday, the U.S. saw a job loss of over 700,000 and the unemployment rate peak at 4.4 percent (up from 3.5 percent in February), the largest one-month increase since the 1970s, U.S. News reports. Blacks and Latinos were hit the hardest, with their unemployment rates topping at 6.7 percent (up from 5.8 percent) and 6.0 percent (up from 4.4 percent), respectively. Young workers aged 20 to 24 in general also saw a sharp increase in unemployment, going from 6.4 to 8.7 percent.
Particularly at-risk industries for coronavirus job losses also employ a larger-than-average share of minority populations. Nationally, a little more than 36% of all U.S. workers last year identified as black, Asian or Hispanic or Latino. But 44% of leisure and hospitality jobs, 47.5% of food services and drinking places jobs and 55.7% of accommodation jobs – which includes many hotel employees – are filled by such workers.
Black or African American unemployment spiked to 6.7% last month from February’s 5.8%, according to Friday’s employment report. Hispanic unemployment rose 1.6 percentage points, from 4.4% to 6%. Asian unemployment ticked up by a similar amount, rising from 2.5% to 4.1%.
Unemployment among white Americans wasn’t nearly as elevated, rising from 3.1% to 4%.
These statistics, however, do not capture the real employment situation, as they do not include furloughed workers who are technically still employed but unable to work. The report notes that “if the workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work...the overall unemployment rate would have been almost 1 percentage point higher than reported.”
Nearly 10 million Americans filed for unemployment claims in the past two weeks, but these numbers are expected to be adjusted for the entire month when the BLS releases its April report in May. As job loss grows rampant and guidelines for non-essential work and travel become more aggressive, black and brown workers grow more at risk of unemployment.
According to William Rodgers, chief economist at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, “the true rate is likely 20.7% percent for African Americans rather than the official rate of 4.1%, and 18.7% for Hispanic workers, as opposed to [the] official rate of 6%,” CNN reports. Young people could be looking at a true rate of at least 26.7 percent, nearly double the number reported by the BLS. When accounting for the last two weeks of unemployment filings, Rodgers estimates that the true rate could be closer to 18.3 percent for adults overall.
USA Today even notes that civil rights groups worry that workers of color in small businesses, restaurants, hotels or manufacturing companies, in particular, could be sent in a “downward spiral, scraping to pay bills and feed their families.”
“We know that when the economy goes into decline, people of color always bear the brunt,” said Teresa Candori, communications director for the National Urban League. “We will be fighting to make sure the most vulnerable communities are not an afterthought.”