The Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report for July, released last week, showed a continuation of the steady economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic for most demographic groups in the U.S.—but not Black teenagers, for whom the unemployment rate increased from 9.3% in June to 13.3% in July.
Nationally, 943,000 jobs were added last month, and the unemployment rate declined by 0.5 percentage points, to 5.4%. While July’s job increase is promising, the number of people who are not in the labor force but who currently want a job is at 6.5 million—up from 6.4 million in June and 1.5 million higher than in February 2020. These people are not counted in the unemployment rate because they had not actively looked for work within the last four weeks or were unavailable to take a job. As the recovery continues, we would expect the labor force participation rate to increase.
Racial disparities in the labor force participation rate and unemployment rate continue to affect the state of employment. While white workers’ labor force participation rate increased from 61.3% in June to 61.6% in July (with a corresponding decrease in the unemployment rate, from 5.2% to 4.8%), the labor force participation rate for Black workers dipped from 61.6% in June to 60.8% in July. While unemployment rates also decreased for Black workers, this decrease in large part reflects the decrease in the labor force, as the total number of both employed and unemployed Black workers decreased. Black workers—in particular, Black teens—are experiencing the highest unemployment rates.
Table 1 and Figure 1 show the U.S. unemployment rate by race and ethnicity for May, June, and July 2021.
Table 2 shows the U.S. unemployment rate by race, gender, and age from July 2020 to July 2021. It makes clear that the pandemic has significantly impacted non-Hispanic Black teens ages 16 to 19. On average, this group had the highest unemployment rate over the 13-month period, at 18.86%. In July, the labor force participation rate for Black teens was 30.8%, compared to 31.6% for Latino or Hispanic teens and 37.8% for white teens. According to a report from Child Trends, almost 30% of Black young adults reported that they were not working due to COVID-19 for reasons including loss of employment or inability to work due to illness; for young adults of other racial or ethnic groups, that percentage ranged from 18.7% to 26.1%.
Overall, unemployment rates among teens have been higher than for adults during the pandemic, partially because of their concentration in retail and hospitality jobs that were impacted by federal and state mandates to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The new job numbers come amid a renewed surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with new case counts rising from 19,000 cases on July 1 to 103,000 cases on July 30. As these numbers rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing warnings about the highly contagious Delta variant, demonstrating the importance of vaccinations.
As of August 5, 2021, 70.4% (181,899,817) of the U.S. population over 18 years of age has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and 49% (165,637,566) of the total population has been fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, of the 58.1% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine and whose race/ethnicity was known, 61.2% were white, 17.2% were Latino or Hispanic, 12.4% were Black, 5.8% were Asian American, and 0.8% were Native American. The disparity in vaccination rates may lead to widening disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths as the Delta variant spreads.
The federal government and state governments have implemented various strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and provide assistance to Americans who need it. Just days after the July 31 expiration of the CDC eviction moratorium, on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a new eviction moratorium, temporarily halting evictions (until October 3) for people in counties experiencing high rates of COVID-19 transmission. As the Delta variant spreads and cooler outdoor temperatures approach, stable housing arrangements will become increasingly important.
The new surge in COVID-19 cases raises the question of how long the trend of declining U.S. unemployment will last. Some states and private businesses are returning to a pre-pandemic normal—increasing capacity in indoor venues, reopening for large-scale events, and ending mask mandates. Others are moving in the opposite direction, reinstating mask mandates and requiring vaccinations for workers. Just how these efforts offset one another to decrease the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that people can remain at work remains to be seen.
For now, young Black workers are still not seeing the economic recovery come to their communities. Before we celebrate a return to full employment, we must address how employment has never been full for Black workers, especially young Black workers.