Black unemployment falls to lowest level since the pandemic began at 8.2%, U.S. jobless rate at 5.4%

Black unemployment falls to lowest level since the pandemic began at 8.2%, U.S. jobless rate at 5.4%

By BCN Executive Editor Wesley Brown – Aug. 8, 2021 – Black unemployment across the nation fell nearly a full point in July as the U.S. economy added more than 950,000 new jobs as employer’s grapple with the fast-spreading COVID-19 Delta variant. Overall, total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 943,000 in July, and the unemployment rate declined by 0.5 percentage point to 5.4%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday (Aug. 6).

The nation’s jobless rate for Black workers age 16 and over now stands at 8.2%, 0.9 percentage points below the 9.1% unemployment rate in June. That compares a spike of 16.7% in April 2020, one month after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic. The lowest-ever unemployment rate for Black workers in the U.S. was exactly two years ago in August 2019, when the rate fell to 5.2%/

Although the Biden administration was optimistic about the continued recovery of the U.S. labor pool that was obliterated by pandemic shelter-in-place and social distancing mandates over the past 16 months, U.S. Labor Department officials said the number of unemployed persons remains at 8.7 million.

The U.S. labor force reached a high of 164.6 million persons in February 2020, just before the coronavirus arrival on U.S. shores in March 2020. Today, the number of U.S. workers with jobs or seeking work holds at 161.3 million, still well over pre-pandemic levels.

“With an average of 832,000 new jobs over the past three months, this robust and sustained job growth is built on the Biden administration’s progress getting people vaccinated and investing in America’s workers, businesses and communities,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. “Our labor force is healing, our economy is reopening, and people are getting back to work, but we still have a way to go. Economic recovery depends on our commitment to public health, so I urge every eligible person to get vaccinated against COVID-19 who has not done so already. It’s how to protect yourself, protect your family, and help our economy move forward.”

Walsh also encouraged the Congress to approved President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure deal that is now before the U.S. Senate. The 100-member body is expected to take up the bipartisan legislation on Sunday evening.

“We head toward Labor Day with work to do, but with momentum and with hope. We have the opportunity to create millions of good jobs through the bipartisan infrastructure deal, as well as empower working families and create a more inclusive workforce through the President’s Build Back Better Agenda,” said Walsh.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates declined in July for adult men (5.4%), adult women (5%), Whites (4.8%), Blacks (8.2%), and Hispanics (6.6%). The jobless rates for teenagers (9.6%) and Asians (5.3%) showed little change over the month. Among the unemployed, the number of persons on temporary layoff fell by 572,000 to 1.2 million in July. This measure is down considerably from the high of 18 million in April 2020 but is 489,000 above the February 2020 level. The number of permanent job losers declined by 257,000 to 2.9 million in July but is 1.6 million higher than in February 2020.

The number of long-term unemployed, those jobless for 27 weeks or more, decreased by 560,000 in July to 3.4 million but is 2.3 million higher than in February 2020. These long-term unemployed accounted for 39.3 percent of the total unemployed in July. The number of persons jobless less than 5 weeks increased by 276,000 to 2.3 million.

The labor force participation rate was little changed at 61.7% in July and has remained within a narrow range of 61.4% to 61.7% since June 2020. The participation rate is 1.6 percentage points lower than in February 2020. The employment-population ratio increased by 0.4 percentage point to 58.4% in July and is up by 1.0 percentage point since December 2020. However, this measure is 2.7 percentage points below its February 2020 level.

In July, 13.2% of employed persons teleworked because of the coronavirus pandemic, down from 14.4% in the prior month. These data refer to employed persons who worked remotely for pay at some point in the last 4 weeks specifically because of the pandemic.

Also, 5.2 million persons reported that they had been unable to work in July because their employer closed or lost business due to the pandemic–that is, they did not work at all or worked fewer hours at some point in the last 4 weeks due to the pandemic. This measure is down from 6.2 million in June. Among those who reported in July that they were unable to work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business, 9.1% received at least some pay from their employer for the hours not worked, little changed from the previous month.

Among those not in the labor force in July, 1.6 million persons were prevented from looking for work due to the pandemic, unchanged from June. To be counted as unemployed, by definition, individuals must be either actively looking for work or on temporary layoff.

Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 943,000 in July, following a similar revised increase of 938,000 in the previous month. Nonfarm payroll employment in July is up by 16.7 million since April 2020 but is down by 5.7 million, or 3.7%, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020. Through the first seven months of 2021, notable job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality, local government and education, and professional and business services, BLS data shows.

In July, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by eleven cents to $30.54, following increases in the prior 3 months. Average hourly earnings for private-sector production and nonsupervisory employees also rose by eleven cents to $25.83. The data for recent months suggest that the rising demand for labor associated with the recovery from the pandemic may have put upward pressure on wages, BLS officials said. However, because average hourly earnings vary widely across industries, the large employment fluctuations since February 2020 complicate the analysis of recent trends, U.S. Labor Department officials said.

Arkansas GOP-led legislature adopts new law to end $300 per week unemployment benefit

In Arkansas through the first six months of 2021, the state jobless rate has remained little unchanged at 4.4% over the last three months. However, Black unemployment rate in Arkansas is more than double the state average and higher than the national jobless rate at 9.1%. New BLS data for July will be release by state Division of Workforce Services (DWS) on Aug. 16.

Statewide, Arkansas’ civilian labor pool total declined by 250 to 1,357,922 at end of June, a result of 750 fewer employed and 500 more unemployed Arkansans.

“Arkansas’ unemployment rate remained stable at 4.4% for the third consecutive month,” said Arkansas BLS Program Manager Susan Price. “Arkansas unemployment rate is currently three and four-tenths of a percentage point lower than in June 2020 and is well below the U.S. rate.”

Arkansas’ steady jobless rate caused Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s in early May to order DWS to opt out of the federal supplemental unemployment assistance that offers state jobseekers an extra $300 per week during the COVID-19 pandemic for some 69,000 out-of-work Arkansans.

Two weeks ago, however, Pulaski County District Court Judge Herbert Wright granted a preliminary injunction to five plaintiffs represented by Arkansas Legal Services in a case against Hutchinson and DWS to opt out of the federal unemployment assistance program. That aid extended unemployment benefits until Sept. 6 with a weekly supplemental payout of $300 on top of the regular $400 benefit. The first $10,200 of unemployment benefits is tax-free for people with incomes less than $150,000.

But Judge Wright’s ruling last week temporarily halted Hutchinson’s directive but did not rule on the question of whether the governor had the power to end the program. Instead, Wright agreed that the federal unemployment program is “clearly voluntary, and a state may decide whether to participate in them or not. This Court is faced with the question of who gets to determine whether to participate – the executive branch or the legislative.”

On Thursday, during a specially called legislative session to repeal Act 1002 to ban mask mandates in Arkansas, Hutchinson asked the GOP-led Senate and House supermajority affirm to his decision to order DWS Director Charisse Childers to terminate Arkansas’s participation in extraordinary federal unemployment benefit and relief programs related to COVID-19. Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, introduced Senate Bill 1 on the second day of the special session to the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, backing Hutchinson’s earlier edict that authorized DWS to terminate the supplemental payments that were allocated under President Joe Biden’s $2.2 trillion American.

The bill quickly received a “do-pass” recommendation on Thursday and sent to the full Senate where lawmakers easily approved it by a vote of 29 to 6, with no Democrats backing the bill. SB1 was forwarded to the House Public Health Committee on Thursday and received a speedy do-pass recommendation there too. On Friday, the Republican supermajority overwhelmingly approved the bill in a vote of 73-18, along party lines. Nine House members did not vote on SB 1, which now heads back to Gov. Hutchinson to be signed into law this week, thus nullifying Wright’s earlier order.

Before the session started last week, Hutchinson defended his decision to opt out of the federal unemployment program that supplements DWS’ regular weekly unemployment benefit of $700, noting that Arkansas employers are struggling to fill thousands of jobs.

“It is more important that we reduce the number of unemployed and put more people to work than it is for the state to accept any federal relief programs related to unemployment,” said Hutchinson.

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