Recent Labor Market Rebound Leaves Black Women Further Behind

November 23, 2021
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Author: Jonathan Blair, Research Analyst

The number of Black women in the labor force — those who are employed or unemployed and seeking a job — has fallen the past two months after regaining ground over the summer, despite labor force participation remaining unchanged in the U.S. overall.

Black women comprise just over 20% of skilled nursing caregivers but less than 7% of the U.S. population.

The U.S. economy added 531,000 jobs in October, surpassing expectations and providing a much-needed boost to the recovery. The jobs report brought additional good news as August and September’s disappointing numbers — hampered by the COVID-19 delta variant — were revised upward by 235,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate is much lower relative to other recovery periods — 4.6% now compared to 9.6% at this point in the Great Recession — despite evidence that labor force participation is far from its potential. Some groups — including women, workers from various racial and ethnic backgrounds and older workers — have not returned to the labor force, as pandemic-related disruptions that have shifted the economy continue to trickle through the market.

Black women — whose employment is disproportionately concentrated in a handful of industries — will take more time than other groups in both recovery and shifting to new opportunities as the job market evolves.

Black Women in the Labor Force October 2021

Nearly 130,000 Black women have left the labor force the past two months, and there are 360,000 fewer of them in the labor force now compared to February 2020.

Black women account for nearly 12% of the overall decline in labor force participation since February 2020, despite comprising less than 7% of the population. For this demographic, the labor force participation rate is 3.5% below pre-pandemic levels, compared to 2.5% for white women and 1.7% overall.

Despite improvement in the employment prospects for most segments of the population, the labor market conditions for Black women trended in the wrong direction in October — the number of Black women who were employed compared to the group’s overall population dropped after steadily growing since February.

Jobs Held by Black Women Hit Hardest, Slow to Recover

Diversity data from LaborIQ® by ThinkWhy allows us to dive into demographics of specific job titles, revealing which factors have hindered the economic recovery for Black women. Based on an analysis of 20,000 job titles, we were able to determine roles where this group made up the highest share of employment.

Black Women in Healthcare October 2021

Analysis shows out of the top 10 jobs with the highest share of employment by Black women, nine were in healthcare — including skilled nursing caregivers, nursing aides, group home aides and emergency room orderlies — and the other was an administrative role in social services and community outreach.

Skilled nursing caregivers have the highest share of Black women. Nationally, 85% of skilled nursing caregivers are women, of those one in four are Black. So, Black women comprise just over 20% of skilled nursing caregivers but less than 7% of the U.S. population. In contrast, less than 1.5% of data scientists are Black women.

Through September, the home healthcare services subsector — which includes skilled nursing caregivers — continued losing jobs. But due to 15,000 jobs added in October, the industry has positive job gains for 2021, remaining 24,000 jobs below pre-pandemic levels.

For skilled nursing caregivers and other healthcare workers, the pandemic has been especially risky and mentally taxing, as hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients. Historically, these roles are also low- to mid-salary positions — a skilled nursing caregiver with a couple years’ experience can expect an annual wage just over $20,000 according to LaborIQ. The higher levels of exposure to the virus and associated health risks — combined with relatively low pay — sufficiently prevented many from rejoining the labor force, especially given childcare and other family considerations.

After losing 80,500 jobs to start 2021, the healthcare industry didn’t begin to recover those jobs until June — and it was already in a hole. The 37,200 jobs added in October helped, but the healthcare industry is still 500,000 jobs below February 2020 levels.

Why It Matters

In a tight labor market where employers continue to struggle with finding and retaining talent, some workers — especially Black women — haven’t returned to the labor force as quickly as expected. Black women have had some of the biggest declines in labor force participation, and employment remains farthest below pre-pandemic levels of any gender or racial or ethnic group. Some factors impeding labor force reentry include lack of childcare and employment in lower-wage jobs — such as skilled nursing caregivers — and industries hardest-hit by the pandemic — like healthcare.

The recent downward trend of COVID-19 cases associated with the delta variant, combined with the passing of the upcoming holiday season, could ease the labor situation for Black women, resulting in a return to the labor force in the new year.

LaborIQ by ThinkWhy reports, forecasts and advises on employment conditions and the impact to jobs, industries and businesses across all U.S. cities.