America’s jobs are coming back — but not for everyone

By Bracey Harris

October 4, 2021

JACKSON, Miss. — As the delta variant crept through Mississippi this spring, Ashley Brown kept showing up at her elderly clients’ homes, arranging their medication into pill organizers, sweeping their floors and washing their clothes.

Then she contracted Covid-19 in July, forcing her off the job for two weeks. She thought a negative test was her ticket back to a paycheck. But her shifts were reassigned while she quarantined — and when she recovered, her job was gone.

Women of color like Brown, whose mother is white and father is Black, are often likely to have low-wage jobs like home care work, which offer a critical service but lack protections, including paid sick leave and predictable schedules.

Among the millions of unemployed Americans who sought jobs in August, prospects were particularly bleak for Black workers, who were the only racial or ethnic group whose unemployment rate increased overall. About 9 percent of Black men and 8 percent of Black women were out of work in August, an increase of about half a percentage point from July for both groups. The outlook was better for white men and women, who had the lowest unemployment rate of 4.5 percent.

The gap does not come as a surprise to economists. Even in better times, the nation’s unemployment rate has been dogged by racial disparities.

William Darity, an economist at Duke University, pointed out that Black unemployment has generally hovered at double the rate of white unemployment, since the federal government began tracking the data by race.

“It typically has held up in that way, regardless of whether the economy is in an upturn or downtown,” he said. “As a consequence, there really has never been an improvement in the Black unemployment rate that has brought it into parity with the white unemployment rate. That holds regardless of educational attainment.”