Millions of Americans have returned to work as COVID-19 vaccines helped contain the outbreak; However, employers appear to be hiring fewer black and Hispanic workers, cementing persistent inequalities in the United States.
The gap is fueled by long-standing discrimination in the workplace, according to experts, exacerbated by unique virus-related disorders that have prevented many job seekers from finding jobs to achieve or feel safe.
“We haven’t really addressed the underlying power gaps in the economy,” said Kate Bahn, director of labor policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.
After the US unemployment rate rose to 14.7% in April 2020, when business restrictions to contain the spread of the virus were toughest, the US unemployment rate fell to 5.9% in June, according to the Department of Labor.
But the gains were not evenly distributed: the unemployment rate for black workers was 9.2% and for Hispanics 7.4%, compared with 5.2% for whites.
The racial and ethnic employment gaps in the world’s largest economy existed even when pre-pandemic unemployment hit record lows.
In Washington, the issue is receiving renewed attention from President Joe Biden, who has put forward massive spending plans that he believes will help reshape the economy and make it more inclusive.
And the Federal Reserve has promised to keep interest rates low longer to raise attitudes among racial minorities – something that lasted nearly a decade after the 2008 global financial crisis.
“We all do better when the cake is bigger, and you get the cake bigger by being aggressive,” said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Ministry of Labor will publish the latest employment report on Friday. Some economists estimate that the economy will gain over 1 million jobs in July and bring the unemployment rate down to 5.6% as more businesses reopen.
The June data showed that white women were unemployed at 5%, although they lost their jobs about as quickly in the past year as black women, who were re-employed much more slowly. The trend is similar for Hispanics.
“There’s a solid gap between blacks and whites when it comes to reinstatement,” Spriggs said.
A higher proportion of black women are looking for work than white women, but businesses large and small across the country complain of being unable to find jobs, especially skilled workers.
“These employers are all screaming, ‘We won’t find workers, we won’t find workers.’ Black women are more available and yet they don’t hire them, “Spriggs said.
“It’s discrimination. Unless we take hiring and workforce discrimination seriously, we just can’t move forward.”
Scientists attribute the inequality to factors pushing black and Hispanic workers into jobs that pay less and they are often most at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Virus still a threat
Walter L. Simmons, president and CEO of Employ Prince George’s nonprofit, which serves a predominantly Black and Hispanic county outside of Washington, said the ongoing pandemic disruption is preventing some people from taking jobs or even looking for work.
Bus and carpooling has not yet normalized, so many job seekers are often unable to come to work. Childcare has also been restricted so that working parents have to think about what to do with their children.
Many people in Prince Georges County live with extended families and may be reluctant to take a job that puts them at risk of infection, Simmons said – a fear that has become even more acute with the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
“These are three areas for which no one really has an answer. They just say come back to work, ”Simmons said in an interview.
For now, unemployed people can survive on the federal government-approved extended unemployment benefits, which pay some low-wage workers more than their previous jobs.
About two dozen states have ended these benefits, and they will expire nationwide in September.
Simmons fears what might happen afterwards.
“Those who struggled before the pandemic are really going to fight,” he said.