Earlier this year, protests to “open the economy” saw disproportionate amounts of white people flocking to the streets, many of them sans masks, to push back against measures local and state governments had taken to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Now, as parts of the economy have opened up in recent months, data shows it has also recovered more quickly for white people than everyone else.
In a piece published earlier this week, the Washington Post declared the pandemic recession the “most unequal” in modern U.S. history. It’s a bold claim, particularly because the United States has seen the same patterns of inequality—racial disparities, especially—come up during economic downturns. But the data backs it up.
Mining data from the Department of Labor, the Post reports that about half of the employment lost between February and April has since recovered. But race, gender and age have defined who has experienced that recovery.
While white Americans have recovered more than half of the jobs they lost during the pandemic, Americans identifying as Hispanic saw the steepest drops in employment out of any other demographic at the beginning of the recession, and have more ground to cover than other groups in order to get back to where they were before the pandemic.
Black Americans, meanwhile, have recovered just a third of the employment lost at the start of the recession. And while women have been hit harder this recession than in past downturns (a new report from The 19th noted that 865,000 women left the workforce in September alone), Black women have been left furthest behind in the recovery thus far.
Over the last several months, white women have recovered 61 percent of the jobs they lost (the highest of any demographic group, the Post notes), but Black women have gained back just 34 percent of the jobs they had pre-pandemic. That figure was the lowest of all demographic groups, the Post noted.
But the rates weren’t much better for Black men, who have recovered slightly less than 40 percent of the jobs they’ve lost.
“We know from history that Black folks’ recovery always took longer. And some of that is because their actual losses don’t peak till after the recession,” Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), told The Root earlier this year.
But it’s important to keep in mind that even in “good” economic times, Black Americans experience higher rates of unemployment than white people. Dixon has described the American job market as a “Jim Crow labor market” specifically because of the clear patterns of segregation one encounters when looking at wage or job data.
“Black people are often in the lowest-paid jobs, the dirtiest jobs, the most dangerous jobs in our labor market. And that’s been true across history,” Dixon said. “Their labor is often undervalued and their jobs are more precarious than the jobs of their peers.”
During this recession, Black people are not only more likely to be unemployed, but are less likely to get unemployment benefits, a recent ProPublica article found. This, too, is consistent with past recessions.
“We know from the last recession that the Black workers are often the first fired,” Dixon told The Root in March. “They are less likely to receive unemployment insurance benefits. And it’s unclear whether it’s because they weren’t eligible or because they were discouraged from applying.”
Also suffering disproportionately from this recession are young Americans. As the Post notes, people ages 20 to 24 experienced the greatest job losses of any group “by far” when businesses began shuttering. This isn’t necessarily surprising, considering how young people are overrepresented in the service industry, particularly retail and restaurant jobs that went away for months during the pandemic. Even though young folks have recovered about half of the jobs lost, there’s still a deficit of 2 million jobs for college-age workers and recent graduates.
And once again, the Post reports, out of all young folks, young Black Americans have been left the furthest behind.