Black women’s unemployment hits a historic low – but there is more to do | #JobsDay April 2023

| Apr 11, 2023

The latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is starting off April with some promising news: Black women ages 20 and older have hit their lowest unemployment rate ever recorded in half a century of data, 4.2 percent. This is a good sign because it occurred at a time when Black women’s labor force participation rate is rising, meaning that more Black women are joining the labor market–and they are finding the jobs they are looking for. This matters not only for Black women but also for their families. More than 80 percent of Black mothers are co- or sole breadwinners, a larger share than any other group of mothers.

Yet even at this moment, we must recognize that there is more work to do. Black women are still less likely to be in the labor force than they were before COVID started. And long legacies of racism and sexism mean that Black women’s unemployment rates have always been higher than white men’s and women’s – and that’s still true today. These same discriminatory structures and harmful policy choices have also created a wage gap for Black women, who make just 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men, and pushed them into less-well paid occupations, particularly care-economy jobs, which have long been undervalued precisely because they are disproportionately filled by women of color. As National Partnership President Jocelyn Frye told The 19th, “The reality is that Black women, since the moment they hit the shores of this country, were working, but they were working in a context where they were mistreated and devalued and disrespected. Those women were often treated as commodities, as people who were simply there to serve others. Those attitudes are still with us.”

The fact that Black women are setting records at this moment – when our nation has repeatedly constructed barriers to their achievements – is encouraging news. It also makes clear how much more Black women could thrive if we made policy decisions that centered, rather than marginalized them. For example, Black women are often forced to take unpaid leave from work due to a lack of comprehensive paid leave and caregiving supports. Black women are more likely than any other group of women to work while they are pregnant, yet until very recently there were not sufficient national protections for pregnant workers. And restrictions on abortion are especially harmful to Black women’s educational and career opportunities.

So while the numbers are moving in the right direction, there’s more to do. Black women’s work in the paid labor force, as well as in their homes and communities, is vital to their families and neighborhoods – and to our nation overall. We can’t stop until that work is truly valued and supported.