The release of the November jobs report received a mixed response as the number of jobs added fell short of expectations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 210,000 jobs were added, much less than in prior months.
But the tepid job growth could also point to the need for the final passage of the Build Back Better Act. As the legislation awaits consideration in the Senate, the Biden administration and advocates point to several provisions that support workers and their families as the economy continues to rebound.
Speaking with NewsOne, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh sees the legislation as an essential pathway to improving opportunities for workers and families. Walsh says the Build Back Better framework was an opportunity to address some of the significant issues that surfaced during the pandemic, particularly as it pertains to Black workers and their families.
Calling the Build Back Better framework a “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America,” Walsh reflected on the need to benefit communities that have been traditionally left out.
“Historically, when we’ve seen investments like this in the country, the African American community gets left out and doesn’t have the opportunity to benefit from these investments,” Walsh said. “And when I say benefits from the investments, I mean from the actual construction jobs to the job training opportunities to create pathways in the middle class.”
Noting the president’s commitment to equity across the entire administration, Walsh says the Build Back Better Act is an opportunity to create pathways forward. It’s a significant investment as the recovery for Black workers and their families has been uneven. A September report published by The Hamilton Project noted the ongoing disparity in unemployment rates and labor force participation rate for Black people.
“Importantly, these racial gaps in unemployment still understate the overall economic disruption caused by COVID-19 that Black Americans are facing, since a focus on the unemployment rate alone masks differences in labor force participation,” the report read.
Despite improvement in the overall unemployment rate, Walsh sees the persisting disparity as a sign that more work needs to be done.
“Unemployment is about 4.2%, and the Black unemployment rate [was] about 8.8%,” Walsh explained ahead of the November report. “So that’s double, and we can’t settle for that. That’s not a success. And that’s not a pathway to the middle class.”
Overall, Black unemployment dropped to 6.7 percent in November. Black women had the most significant decrease in unemployment for any group. And while unemployment for Black men also decreased, it remains above the national average at 7.3 percent. Labor force participation also improved, but many parents have struggled with the increased strain due to childcare limitations.
The situation for Black teens is even more strained, with unemployment rising to 21.9 percent in November, the highest it has been all year. But the increased investment in job training and apprenticeship programs could positively impact Black youth.
Dr. Alex Camardelle, director of workforce policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, sees the Build Back Better Act as a good step in the right direction, including training for young adults moving into the workforce.
“There are some meaningful investments in education to help improve post-secondary education for folks who need to go back to school or to job training providers to learn a new skill,” Camardelle explained. He cited nearly $40 billion in education and training to support workers “come off the sidelines.”
Camardelle said that Black workers could benefit from the Build Back Better Act.
“I think disproportionately Black workers would benefit from [the legislation] given that they felt the brunt of this pandemic, particularly the unemployment, particularly the loss of labor force participation,” he said. “In long-term unemployment, it takes Black workers longer to return to the workforce than other workers. The infusion of these workforce dollars are going to be really helpful.”
The provisions for universal pre-k and affordable childcare would have a meaningful impact on Black workers and their families, according to Camardelle. Improving childcare and job training access could also improve Black labor force participation. Camardelle said labor force participation is a more useful economic measure than unemployment.
“When people look at the unemployment rate, if you were to humanize that number, you’re looking at people who are not just working but also actively looking for a job,” he began. “The labor force participation rate captures those who are also not looking at all, who have dropped out of the labor force completely.”
Camardelle said some people may have dropped out of the labor force because they were tired.
“A lot of folks especially who faced a lot of discrimination in the labor market, folks that have carried a record from prior involvement with the criminal justice system, who are consistently discriminated against in the labor market, because of their record, oftentimes find themselves just stepping away and not returning to work because of the fatigue and the stress of not being able to find a good job,” he said.
Additional investments in workforce development, education and training can be a game-changer for Black workers. But Camardelle says that there must be some effort to improve existing systems.
“We shouldn’t take new money and put it in broken systems that reinforce poverty, low wage work for Black workers because that’s been the status quo,” Camardelle said.