Economic Snapshot | Race and Ethnicity

Resilience of Black Labor Force Participation: Unemployed African Americans Are Less Likely to Give Up Job Search

The black unemployment rate is currently 2.2 times higher than the white unemployment rate, a bigger discrepancy than at any point since 2007. While this would normally be a cause for alarm, a closer look at the data reveals an interesting dynamic at work, below referred to as the “resilience factor.” What this means is that unemployed African Americans have been less likely to give up the search for a job than other unemployed workers.

The black–white unemployment rate ratio has increased during the recovery because the black unemployment rate—3.3 percentage points higher than in 2007—has fallen slower than the white unemployment rate (which is just 1.2 percentage points higher than in 2007). This is the case for two reasons. First, black employment has rebounded by less than it has for whites. Indeed, the share of employed, African American, working-age adults in the population is 4.6 percentage points below the 2007 average, while the comparable figure for whites is down 3.9 percentage points.

The other reason the black unemployment rate has not recovered as much as the white rate is the aforementioned resilience factor. In other words, relative to whites, a higher share of jobless blacks have continued to seek work—which means they have remained in the labor force and therefore been counted as unemployed. This is reflected in the fact that the percentage of blacks in the labor force (employed or actively seeking work) has fallen by less than the comparable figure for whites (a 2.8 percentage-point decline versus a 3.3 percentage-point fall). Put simply, the resilience of African American labor force participation is actually contributing to the growing black–white unemployment rate gap.

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