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U.S. unemployment rate falls, ticks up for Black women

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One woman searching for work attends the Central Florida Employment Council Job Fair, which is held at the Central Florida Fairgrounds.

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Although the overall U.S. rate of unemployment fell for February, it rose in February for Black women. This is because they were more severely affected by the pandemic.

The February jobs report showed stronger-than-expected jobs growth, with nonfarm payrolls rising by 678,000According to Friday’s Labor Department report, this was confirmed. Overall unemployment dropped to 3.8% in February from 4% in January.

Michelle Holder, economist at John Jay College, and president of The Washington Center for Equitable Growth, stated that “in the aggregate it’s really positive,” but still had some concerns.

Black women saw their unemployment rate rise to 6.1% from 5.8% in February. Black women are the only race or gender to experience an increase in the unemployment rate.

Last month, the black woman’s labor force participation rate fell by 0.2 percent. Economists use the labor force participation rate as a key metric to measure engagement in and optimism about the labor market.

Holder reports that almost a third of Black women in the U.S. work in the health-care or social service sector. The latter has experienced a slower return to labor during the pandemic.

CNBC reported that Covid’s disruptive of the child-care sector has left female workers out.

Black men were the most affected by the drop in unemployment from January to February. The rate dropped from 7.1% last month to 6.4%. Black men are also more likely to be in the labor force.

Holder observed that Black Americans are overrepresented within the U.S.’s transportation and warehouse industries. These have grown in response to the rise of ecommerce, Holder said.

However, in February the Black unemployment rate was 6.6%, which is exactly twice that of white Americans.

Elise Gould (economist at the Economic Policy Institute) stated, “The White unemployment rate is now lower that it was ever,”

According to Nicole Mason, President and CEO, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the disparity is indicative of a uneven labor market recovery in the wake of the pandemic.

Labor segmentation — women of color are more likely to hold precarious jobs — and discrimination are among the factors contributing to gaps in labor market outcomes along race and gender lines, according to Mason.

Mason explained that “we need to pay attention so that we don’t leave anyone behind in recovery or turn off the work that still has to happen in order that everyone can recover,” Mason added.

—CNBC’s Crystal Mercedes contributed to this report.

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