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Black Joblessness on the Rise. Black Workers Account for 90% of Recent Increase in Unemployment

By Catarina Saraiva and Alex Tanzi

The unemployment rate for African Americans jumped for a second straight month in June as workers left the workforce amid early signs of a cooling labor market.

A person files an application for unemployment benefits Photographer: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

That cooling has been uneven: The number of unemployed African Americans has increased by 267,000 since April, meaning they account for close to 90% of the 300,000 increase in overall joblessness during that period.

Black unemployment rose to 6% in June, the highest since August, and was once again nearly double that of White workers, whose rate fell to 3.1%, a Labor Department report showed Friday.

Black workers are often among the first to be fired as the economy begins to weaken, research shows, and the recent declines in employment could be a canary in the coal mine for the broader labor market. 

“If conditions continue to weaken, or even accelerate, the gains won by Black workers and other vulnerable groups could diminish quickly,” said William Rodgers, director of the St. Louis Fed’s Institute of Economic Equity. 

The unemployment rate for Hispanic and Asian workers also rose, to 4.3% and 3.2% respectively. But that’s partly because those workers entered or returned to the labor market. 

Black Americans, however, are leaving the workforce after months of improvement in their labor participation culminated in a 15-year high earlier this year. Employment for that group declined by 3% in three months, one of the largest drops on record.

Black unemployment has risen 1.3 percentage points since reaching a record low in April. That jump is the fastest increase in since the pandemic largely shut the US economy down in early 2020.

The increase in the gap between Black and White unemployment — a closely watched benchmark of inequality in the labor market — also marks a reversal from the narrowest level ever in April.

Read More: US Job Growth Cools But Wages Signal Labor Market Still Strong

–With assistance from Matthew Boesler.

(Updates with quote)

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