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31% of Black Workers are Struggling to find Jobs that Pay a Living Wage

31% of Black Workers are Struggling to find Jobs that Pay a Living Wage

This week, the Department of Labor released a stronger-than-expected jobs report. But despite this good news, many Black Americans may still be lagging behind.

According to an analysis released yesterday by the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP), the percentage of Black American workers unable to find a living-wage job climbed to its highest level in six months, even while other segments of the population enjoyed marginal improvement.

“We continue to see a huge disconnect between the reported economic numbers, and the reality for the majority of Americans,” said LISEP Chairman Gene Ludwig. “Policymakers shouldn’t be fooled by a bullish stock market or what appears to be plummeting unemployment rates. The economic crisis continues for so many American families.”

In its monthly True Rate of Unemployment (TRU) report, LISEP determined that for the month of March, 31.8% of Black workers are “functionally unemployed,” defined as seeking but unable to find full-time employment that lifts them over the federal poverty line. This is a 1.7 percentage point increase over February, and the highest Black TRU rate since the 32.7% reported in September 2020.

This is in stark contrast to the official unemployment report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which pegged the March Black unemployment rate at 9.6%, a 0.3 percentage point improvement over February. One possible explanation for the disparity between the LISEP TRU and the BLS-reported unemployment rate is that while more Black workers are finding employment, these new jobs are largely low-wage positions that fail to raise workers above the federal poverty level, according to LISEP.

The overall TRU improved from February to March, dropping from 25.1% to 24.4%, while the BLS rate also showed improvement, dropping from 6.2% to 6.0%. LISEP reports an improving TRU for other demographics: Whites (22.8%, down from 23.0%); Hispanics (from 30.9% to 28.5%); men (20.8% to 20.3%); and women (30.0% to 29.3%).

“What these numbers show is a troubling trend toward an unequal economic recovery, with one-fourth of the workforce still unable to secure a job that will feed a family,” Ludwig said. “The jobs package under consideration by Congress is a step in the right direction, as a lasting recovery needs more than jobs – it needs quality jobs.”

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