Black unemployment rate falls to pandemic-era low in April

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Pedestrians walk past the New York Stock Exchange in New York.
John Taggart | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The unemployment rate for Black Americans dipped to a pandemic-era low in April, marking a new milestone in the labor market recovery from the Covid crisis.

Headline numbers showed a strong labor picture last month. The U.S. added 428,000 nonfarm payrolls in April, better than economists expected, and the overall unemployment rate held steady at 3.6%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

Unemployment rate

April 2019 February 2020 April 2020 March 2022 April 2022
Total 3.6 3.5 14.7 3.6 3.6
White 3.1 3.1 14.2 3.2 3.2
Black 6.6 5.8 16.7 6.2 5.9
Hispanic or Latino 4.2 4.4 18.9 4.2 4.1
Asian 2.2 2.5 14.5 2.8 3.1

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data is seasonally adjusted and includes those 20 years and older. As of April 2022.

For Black workers, the unemployment rate came within striking distance of all-time lows, falling to 5.9% in April from 6.2% in March. The record low for Black unemployment is 5.4% in October 2019.

“Black unemployment has been trending down pretty steadily over the last six months or so, and it’s now down below 6% for the first time in this recovery,” Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said.

“That’s certainly a positive sign, but it’s important to remember that it’s significantly higher than any other group,” she added.

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When broken down by gender, the unemployment rate for Black men rose to 6.1% in April from 5.6% the month prior, even as nearly every other demographic group’s unemployment rate fell or held steady.

However, the labor force participation rate for Black men jumped a percentage point in April to 68.9%. That shows more Black men entered the labor market but faced challenges in hiring.

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“This shows how the unemployment rate can be misleading on whether the labor market is tight. Workers who face hiring frictions are sensitive to actual hiring to get into the search,” William Spriggs, chief economist to the AFL-CIO, said in a tweet.

The remarkable labor recovery in the U.S. has not been sufficient to overcome historical disparities, said Kate Bahn, chief economist and director of labor market policy at Equitable Growth.

“Even as employers talk about labor shortages and we have historically high job openings, we are still facing things like occupational segregation, limiting what kind of jobs people can go into, or hiring discrimination,” Bahn said.

The unemployment rate for Black women fell to 5% in April from 5.5% the month prior. The rate had declined sharply in March, but increased in February.

EPI’s Gould noted the importance of examining longer-term trends when assessing labor market recovery.

“Once you break these down by race, ethnicity and gender, the sample sizes are so small that the series shows a lot of volatility,” Gould said.

–CNBC’s Crystal Mercedes contributed to this report.

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