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Unemployment Rate for Black Americans Dropped to Near a Record Low in January

By Catarina Saraiva

The unemployment rate for Black Americans in January dropped to near a record low, as the labor market’s surprise strength benefited a broad swathe of workers. 

(Photo: Pexels)

Last month’s rate fell to 5.4%, just above the rate reached in August 2019, which at 5.3% was the lowest in data stretching back to the early 1970s, according to a Labor Department released Friday. The January level was down from 5.7% in December.

The data showed that more Black Americans entered the labor force and became employed. Still, the January rate is 2 percentage points above that of the overall population and remains the highest among the race groups tracked by the government.

The January report displayed widespread employment and labor force growth. 

Many employers are still struggling to find workers, helping to pull in traditionally sidelined workers, including minorities and women. It’s a phenomenon Federal Reserve officials say became apparent in the lead up to the pandemic, when longstanding disparities in employment between White workers and those of other races started to break down.

Women have also experienced substantial gains in the past few months. The share of employed women age 25 to 54 — so-called prime-age workers — rose to 74.7% last month, matching the pre-pandemic level and nearing a record seen in 2000. 

For prime-age men, the employment-to-population ratio fell to 85.8% in January. It hasn’t yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels and is far from highs reached in the post-World War II era.

(Corrects a story published Feb. 3 to say that the Black unemployment rate approached a record low, rather than matched it, in the headline, as well as the first and second paragraphs.)

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