Black workers in U.S. saw gains in June, but racial gap persists

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By Jonnelle Marte

(Reuters) - The number of Black people either working or looking for work increased in June, U.S. employment data showed on Friday, a positive development for a group hit hard by pandemic job losses.

But the unemployment rate also ticked up, suggesting that many people who started looking for jobs haven't found one yet.

The labor force participation rate for Black workers rose to 61.6% in June from 60.9% in May as more people worked or searched for new jobs. The share of Black workers who were employed in June also rose to 55.9% from 55.4%. In contrast, the labor force participation rate for white workers dropped slightly.

The more rapid rebound in labor force participation for Black workers suggests that unemployment benefits may not be deterring Black people from looking for work, William Spriggs, an economics professor at Howard University and chief economist for the AFL-CIO labor group, wrote on Twitter.

The unemployment rate for Black workers rose slightly to 9.2%, up from 9.1% in May and mirroring a similar move in the overall unemployment rate, which rose to 5.9% in June from 5.8%.

Graphic: Black vs white unemployment - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/nmopaxwbwva/black%20white%20unemployment%20june%202021.jpg

The gap between the Black unemployment rate and the white unemployment rate remained unchanged at 4 percentage points. That is down from 5 percentage points at the height of the pandemic but still twice as wide as it was in August 2019, when the gap between Black and white workers narrowed to a record low of 1.8 percentage points.

“We are still facing inequality,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said during a Reuters interview on Friday. “There is work to be done coming out of this pandemic to really make sure the recovery is equitable.”

The unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers are still 3 percentage points higher than they were before the pandemic, while the overall unemployment rate and the unemployment rate for white workers is up 2 percentage points from February 2020.

The racial disparities narrow a bit when looking at the number of people employed. Employment dropped more dramatically for Black and Hispanic workers at the start of the pandemic. But as of June, employment for Black, Hispanic and white workers was all down about 5% when compared to February 2020.

Graphic: Jobs by race - https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/JOBS/xklvyxqbgpg/chart.png

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte; Additional reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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