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The staggering job losses sparked by the coronavirus pandemic are rippling across lines of gender, class and race. But it is women, people of color and the young who are bearing the brunt of the crisis.
The U.S. shed 20.5 million jobs last month, an unprecedented number that led to a record high jobless rate of 14.7%.
But Friday’s report from the Department of Labor revealed that while the jobless rate for whites reached 14.2% in April, a historic high, 16.7% of African Americans were out of work and the jobless rate among Latinos soared to 18.9%, the highest on record.
The report “offers the first true glimpse of how young people, women, and Black and Latino Americans are disproportionately suffering from the current economic crisis,” says Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “It’s what always happens during disasters such as this. Those with the least power and resources are hit first and hardest.”
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The spikes in unemployment reverse what had been historic declines. African Americans had a record low unemployment rate of 5.4% in August of 2019, while Latinos experienced a jobless rate of 3.9% in September.
“It certainly is the case that we were finally seeing the recovery from the Great Recession hit more and more people,” says Elise Gould, a senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute. “Historically disadvantaged groups were finally beginning to see lower unemployment rates.”
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Still, Gould said, “significant racial gaps remained.”
And while unemployment rates reached record lows last year, the job gains were often concentrated at the lower end of the pay scale, making it more difficult for black and Latino workers to accumulate the savings or benefits that could help them weather the current economic storm.
“These workers were … in pretty (bad) jobs before this crisis and couldn’t build up wealth to build a financial cushion,” says Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “So it’s really a layering on top of what is the hugest, fastest decline in the economy we’ve seen since the Great Depression.”
Latinos have been particularly hard hit by the crippling of the leisure and hospitality sector, which lost 77% of its jobs as travel ground to a near halt amid orders for residents to stay at home.
“These numbers are simply devastating for our community and country,” Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, said in a statement. “We are seeing that Latinos are bearing the brunt of this pandemic because they hold a disproportionate number of jobs in devastated industries such as hospitality, transportation and travel. And because these are often hourly or gig jobs, they do not have benefits such as sick leave and other paid time off.”
Women and young people are struggling as well.
The jobless rate for adult women rose to 15.5%. They also tend to hold a disproportionate number of jobs in areas like hospitality, as well as the fields of health care and education which lost 2.5 million jobs last month.
And the unemployment rate for teenagers, who often work for restaurants, stores and other businesses shuttered during the pandemic, doubled to roughly 32%, a setback that could hurt them financially for years to come.
“Almost a third of workers between 16 and 19 are unemployed,” says Bahn, “and we know from the Great Recession workers who are in the middle of an economic crisis in their early working years (see) long term impact on their earnings growth. ”
While stronger unemployment benefits could be particularly helpful to lower wage workers, multiple measures will be necessary to survive a crisis that is crippling much of the nation, Gould says.
“It’s clear that the hurt is being felt across the country so Congress needs to continue providing relief to workers across the board,” Gould says, adding that aid to local and state governments is also critical. “All those things are essential to getting us through this period and to the other side.”
Follow Charisse Jones on Twitter @charissejones
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