Not only did the Black unemployment rate in December jump to more than twice that of white people, but Black workers — who already have long had the highest rate of all demographics — saw their levels of joblessness grow while everybody else’s dropped.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday morning released the December 2021 numbers and showed that one month after the Black unemployment rate fell by more than one full percentage point in an unprecedented drop, it went right back up 0.6% to land at 7.1% for last month.
In contrast, the unemployment rate for white people fell for the fifth straight month to 3.2%. That is lower than the 3.9% national unemployment rate, which also fell for consecutive months.
For a much fuller and more telling perspective, the unemployment rates for Hispanics (4.9%), Asians (3.8%), people with at least a Bachelor’s degree (2.1%), people who have attended some college (3.6%), those with only high school diplomas (4.6%) and people who never graduated from high school (5.2%) were all significantly lower than the rate at which Black people are out of work.
On a more granular level, Black women, in particular, saw their rate of unemployment grow more than 1 percentage point from 4.9% to 6.2% in December.
The uneven gains and losses along racial lines in the December unemployment rate lend further credence to criticisms of an uneven economic recovery that is leaving Black people out of the picture.
One economist chalked up the phenomenon to straight-up racial bias — or racism.
“Discrimination is happening on multiple fronts,” Kate Bahn, chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told NBC News in October when the Black unemployment rate stood at 7.8% for the second straight month. “It’s happening on the downturn if you get laid off and then also, the degree to which hiring picks back up, there could also be discrimination in hiring. So that would also disproportionately harm Black workers.”
In all, the country only added 199,000 jobs last month in what the New York Times called “a weak showing.”
The underlying assumption for December is that the rise of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus likely kept workers from actually being available to work — a trend that economists expect to continue and worsen this month and possibly beyond.
“I think Omicron will slow hiring in January,” Nela Richardson, chief economist at the payroll processing firm ADP, told the Times. “It might hit in early February as well.”