Headlines across the internet repeatedly pointed in celebratory terms to the jobs report for May that was released Friday morning. But the good news of the jobless rate dropping did not extend to Black workers as the new data showed their unemployment levels ticked upward last month.
CNBC: “May sees biggest jobs increase ever of 2.5 million as economy starts to recover from coronavirus”
CNN: “America’s unemployment rate falls to 13.3% as economy posts surprise job gains”
Washington Post: “Unemployment rate drops to 13 percent, as the economy picked up jobs as states reopened”
New York Times: “Unemployment in U.S. Unexpectedly Fell in May”
As if the spike in unemployment was not caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has disproportionately hurt Black people, any mentions of Black unemployment actually rising were buried deep in the respective news reports. To make matters worse, Black people have seemingly been battling two pandemics: COVID-19 and police brutality, which has also spiked amid the public health crisis.
Of course, on the surface, putting any dent in the unemployment rate is always good news. The amount of jobless Americans in April ballooned to 14.7 percent before falling to 13.3 percent in May. That was in comparison to April’s 16.7 percent Black unemployment rate rising to 16.8 percent in May. And while that rise of a tenth of a percentage point might seem inconsequential to some, it could also be seen as a metaphor for Black people still losing while America wins. (No, an unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent should not constitute winning by any means. But the rate was trending in the right direction for white people while the opposite was true for Black people, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)
Economists were taking the latest jobs report to be a sign that the economy was recovering from the coronavirus pandemic that shut down an exponential number of businesses. But Black-owned businesses have disproportionately suffered as applications for the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program were not accepted. That has fueled suspicions that Black-owned businesses would not survive and consequently cause their employees to add to the growing Black unemployment rate.
History has shown that economic downturns are especially problematic for Black people, but the writing was already on the wall months ago, according to Dr. Selma Bartholomew, a Bronx-based entrepreneur who owns an education consultancy that works in schools to support at-risk students through STEM learning and designs curriculums around gang violence prevention and life skills.
“We were worried before COVID-19 as a Black business owner,” Bartholomew told NewsOne in April. “I was already apprehensive. And now I think we should all be in a state of panic.”
May’s jobs report confirms Bartholemew’s accuracy.