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Black Women on the Losing End of Labor Force: Unemployment on the Rise

Black Women on the Losing End of Labor Force: Unemployment on the Rise

Soon after the pandemic hit in 2020, a friend of mine lost her job in the service industry. Working at a high-end restaurant brought in a great income, and she had just been promoted months prior. But she found herself, along with many others, without a job and living off limited savings. Eventually, she had to move back home with her parents and became depressed.

Then, in 2022, she was hired for a remote position with a healthcare company, making nearly twice as much money, with monthly bonuses and full benefits. She was able to move into her own place and start to rebuild.

Three years after the pandemic, Black workers, women in particular, have actually benefited from a strong labor market that has created some of the most substantial opportunities for career changes in decades. Black workers have found better-paying jobs with benefits and professional and office positions that offer remote opportunities that make life better. The Black unemployment rate in the United States fell to the lowest point on record in April.

Unfortunately, these historic gains have been showing major signs of weakness. The unemployment rate increased from 4.4% in April to 5.3% in May for Black women. Although the overall rate of job losses in the Black workforce increased, Black women were the most affected. Job opportunities have diminished, including massive layoffs and exclusions in hiring pools. The stark wage gap between Black women and nearly every other demographic group means that when they lose work, they have less money saved up to sustain through a job loss, and the results from that are felt more severely. These pay disparities continue to disadvantage Black women, even with the most impressive qualifications.

The truth is, the increased availability of remote work has saved Black women. Not only can they apply to companies in any city, but also can be free of microaggressions at work. Remote work is also great for working mothers who may struggle to find child care. For companies, this is one way they can become more equitable and inclusive.

On average, Black women earn about 38 percent less than white men every year. Even those working in high-paying fields still feel the burn of pay inequality, making just 54 cents for every dollar paid to their white male counterparts.

If we take an even closer look, we’ll find that Black women are the most educated group in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. All in all, while Black women are certainly obtaining more degrees, there’s more work to be done to ensure they can make a fair living. The data may be glum but the news does show a promising sign that Black women are working diligently to close the wealth gap and build brighter futures for themselves and their families. Some are becoming the first in their family to attend college, beating the immeasurable odds.

Researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) found that employer practices and government policies have historically disadvantaged Black women compared to white women and men, leading to a disparaging labor market. Negative representations of Black womanhood have reinforced these discriminatory practices and policies. The rise in unemployment among Black women is another example of systemic inequalities that have failed to ensure equal opportunities for all in the labor market.

Companies don’t have adequate policies to protect and promote Black women, and it’s leading to report lower job satisfaction, greater challenges to career mobility, and a higher likelihood of quitting for a different job.

After we learned that affirmative action was gutted, four Black women either lost their jobs — or left on their own accord — in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space. Disney’s chief diversity officer and senior vice president Latondra Newton exited her role after more than six years, and plans to devote more time to her self-owned creative company. Karen Horne was laid off by Warner Bros. Discovery due to a reorganization of the division. Verna Myers stepped down as Netflix’s first head of inclusion after five years. She will remain an advisor, while devoting more time to her self-owned consulting company. Film Academy’s Executive Vice President of Impact and Inclusion Jeanell English also exited.

Although there are similarities with these exits — Hollywood, diversity and inclusion positions, Black women — let’s be clear that many Black women in the corporate space have had to leave a performative position once they realized they weren’t making the impact they hoped to make. Oftentimes, Black women’s labor is exploited. We don’t know what these women had to endure within their respective positions, yet we can bet money that the road had many bumps and bruises.

The affirmative action decision came despite evidence that these policies and programs increase diversity in higher education. As for its impact in workplace diversity, it helped to grow the representation of women and underrepresented racial groups among companies. Now, we will start to see them be less inclined to call out their racial disparities within their talent pool.

Whether laid-off or pushed out, Black women are losing in this labor force. Without structural changes, actionable goals on racial equity, and inclusive cultures, Black women will have to continue to transform themselves as they navigate a system that wasn’t built with them in mind anyway. More importantly, employers have to keep the promises that they made about diversity, equity, and inclusion. They need to examine their promotion process and their policies around raising pay. Also, they need to eliminate as much bias as possible, creating more transparency on obscure pay practices that contribute to the racial and gender wage gap.

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