Nationwide—The unemployment rate remained at 3.6% in April according to this morning’s monthly jobs report. Approximately 428,000 jobs were produced, and 5.9 million workers remained unemployed. The unemployment rate for Black workers declined slightly, from 6.2% to 5.9%, yet the Black unemployment rate remained substantially higher than the rate for white workers (3.2%). The unemployment rate for Latinx workers was 4.1% and the unemployment rate for Asian workers was 3.1%. These disparities are a result of structural racism embedded in the U.S. labor market.
“We continue to see sustained job growth today as a result of the critical relief and recovery measures passed by Congress,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Yet faced with inflation, global conflict, and the continuing pandemic, we cannot take economic recovery for granted. Congress must act to fix the nation’s flawed and exclusionary unemployment insurance system before the next recession. While federal policymakers fail to act, states from Missouri to New Hampshire are moving to further cut and downgrade unemployment benefits, undermining the system’s ability to support workers and help the nation recover from the next downturn.”
Strengthening unemployment insurance is critical to racial equity, as unemployment and labor force participation rates continue to be uneven. One bright spot was the decline in unemployment for Black men and women: 309,000 more Black men and 68,000 more Black women were employed in April 2022 than in the first month of the year.
Growing sectors of the economy included leisure and hospitality, which added 78,000 jobs in April, and transportation and warehousing, which added 52,000 jobs. Employment in retail increased by 29,000 jobs. Yet workers in these service industry jobs—which too often underpay employees, offer unstable schedules, and provide few benefits—are demanding not just employment, but better pay, benefits, and working conditions. From Starbucks, to Amazon, to the Apple Store and a host of smaller employers across the country, workers are standing together to call for recognition of the unions they have formed and improvements on the job.
Forming unions is a vital way to promote racial equity in the economy. Strengthening unemployment insurance also helps to build power for workers of color by supporting jobless workers as they seek employment that matches their skills and qualifications, rather than forcing them to settle for an unsuitable job.
Policymakers must implement permanent, structural reform of the unemployment insurance system before the next recession. Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act would begin to address some significant ways the unemployment insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities. It does so by ensuring states provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider workers’ most recent earnings and standardizing earning requirements. These reforms lay the groundwork for transforming our unemployment insurance system and enabling all workers to thrive.
This blog originally appeared at NELP on May 6, 2022. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers.