US economy

Unemployment rate for Black women fell in June, but so did their participation in the labor force

Commuters travel on the L train system in the Loop on July 27, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois.

Scott Olson | Getty Images

The U.S. unemployment rate fell for Black women last month even as the overall metric held steady across the board, but labor force participation also slipped for the group.

Headline unemployment hovered at 3.6% in June as the economy gained 372,000 jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. That’s down slightly from 384,000 additions in May, although the gains topped Dow Jones’ estimate from economists of 250,000.

The unemployment rate for Black women fell to 5.6% in June, down from 5.9% in the previous month. However, the labor force participation rate, which tracks how many people are employed or searching for work, slipped from 62.7% in May to 62%.

It’s a reversal from May’s jobs report when the labor force participation rate ticked up 1% for the group.

By comparison, the unemployment rate among white women hovered at 2.9% as labor force participation rate held steady at 57.1%. Hispanic women saw unemployment tick down to 4.5% as labor force participation hovered at 59.6%.

“It’s hard to see from this data what is exactly behind it, but black women are withdrawing from employment much more than white women,” said Ariane Hegewisch, senior research fellow at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The move may signal more withdrawals from the job market and be a contributor to the downtick in the unemployment rate within the group, she said.

Black workers across the board saw some of the sharpest declines in labor force participation rates for June even as unemployment rates declined. Labor force participation among the group overall fell to 62.2% from 63% in May while the unemployment rate inched 0.4% lower. Black men also saw participation fall from 68.9% to 68.1% in June as the unemployment rate dropped.

Across the board, labor force participation slipped 0.1% from 62.3% in May. Asian workers saw the unemployment rate rise to 3% from 2.4% in May.

Monthly jobs data continues to underscore the ongoing inequities in the U.S. employment market, said Kathryn Zickuhr, a labor market policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Many of these issues existed well before the pandemic began, but some of those gaps are narrowing, she added

While the unemployment rate among white women, which held steady in June, trails that of Black and Hispanic women, those gaps have decreased slightly from May, when joblessness among Black and Hispanic women stood at 5.9% and 4.7%, respectively.

“These gaps are real and persistent and until we address them they are going to undermine the resilience of our labor market and economy,” Zickuhr said.

While monthly changes in the jobs report highlight ongoing discrepancies in the recovery and overall employment market, Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy, cautions against drawing broad conclusions as results can shift with sampling.

“I think the bigger picture is that all of those numbers are within the range of where they’ve been in the last three months,” she said. “It’s a signal that the recovery is stable.”

— Gabriel Cortes contributed reporting.


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