Unemployment rate rose for women and stayed flat for Black workers in October, even as overall jobs numbers improved

  • The unemployment picture improved for Americans overall in October, but not for women and Black workers.
  • The total unemployment rate eased from 4.8% to 4.6% last month, but it rose from 4.2% to 4.4% for women and held steady at 7.9% for Black workers.
  • The change in employment compared with pre-pandemic levels shows women of every racial and ethnic group tracked by the Labor Department lag behind the total U.S. recovery.

The unemployment picture improved for Americans overall in October, but not for women and Black workers.

While the total unemployment rate eased from 4.8% to 4.6% last month, it rose for women and held steady for Black Americans, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The October jobs report highlights the persistent disparity in labor recovery for women and Black Americans.

"The pandemic recession disproportionately impacted certain groups," said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. "The recovery has yet to reach some of those groups that were hardest hit."

For adult male workers overall, the unemployment rate dipped from 4.7% to 4.3% in October, while the unemployment rate for adult women rose 0.2 percentage points to 4.4%.

Throughout the pandemic, "many women workers were hurt because of the types of jobs they have and because of their increased caretaking responsibilities for children and other family members," Gould said.

Job gains roared back in nearly every sector in October with U.S. payrolls rising by 531,000. But in the government sector, jobs fell by 73,000.

"Government employment is a sector that women are disproportionately represented in, so any contraction in terms of the government sector hits women and particularly women of color pretty hard," said Michelle Holder, president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and a labor economist at John Jay College.

For Black workers overall in October, the unemployment rate held steady at 7.9% — the highest of any racial or ethnic category tracked by the Labor Department.

The unemployment rate for Black men increased from 8.0% to 8.3% in October while the labor force participation rate also rose half a percentage point.

But for Black women, the unemployment rate fell from 7.3% to 7% as the labor force participation rate also shrunk by 0.3 percentage points.

"The rise in the unemployment rate for Black men is likely due to more people coming back in the labor force in search of a job. …Black women saw a decline in their unemployment rate between September and October, but unfortunately, this wasn't because they saw employment gains," Gould said.

The unemployment rate for Hispanic workers eased from 6.3% to 5.9% in October, while the rate remained unchanged at 4.2% for Asian workers.

The change in employment compared with pre-pandemic levels in February 2020 shows women of every racial and ethnic group tracked by the Labor Department lag behind the total U.S. recovery.

Black women are the furthest behind in returning to pre-pandemic employment levels, lagging by 5.3%.

"What we're seeing is that the economy is recovering for a lot of groups, but the recovery is stalling for women, particularly women of color," Holder said.

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