Biden White House can now tout historic low Black unemployment rate
Apr 7, 2023
The Biden White House is touting a major feat after Friday’s jobs report revealed that the Black unemployment rate reached its lowest level in history.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released data that showed that the unemployment rate for Black Americans fell to 5.0% in March – the lowest rate since the federal agency began recording such employment data in the 1970s.
Though the Black unemployment rate remains disproportionately higher than the white unemployment rate (3.2%), the March numbers also show the smallest racial gap in history.
“It’s an incredible milestone,” said Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the White House National Economic Council.
The Biden official told theGrio that the new jobs data fulfill the administration’s agenda to “tackle some of the historic, systemic issues that existed in the labor market.”
“President [Joe Biden] and Vice President [Kamala Harris], from the moment that they came into office, identified that they not only wanted to have a strong economic recovery, they wanted to have an equitable recovery,” Ramamurti explained.
The economic policy advisor credited the historic low Black unemployment to the investments from the Biden-Harris administration’s American Rescue Plan — which provided direct economic relief throughout the COVID-19 pandemic — allowing unemployed Americans to support their families and eventually find better jobs.
Ramamurti also noted that the Biden-Harris administration improved what was an “inequitable” Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Trump administration. “The folks who were not well connected to a bank, a big bank or otherwise, often didn’t get some of that PPP money or other small business relief,” he said.
The Biden White House made adjustments to the small business loan program, allowing sole-proprietor businesses — a disproportionate number of which are Black-owned — to get a more “generous” share of federal dollars.
“That also had a big impact in terms of the opportunities and hiring that those types of entities were able to do,” said Ramamurti.
Andre Perry, an economist and senior fellow at Brookings Institution, noted that the current employment and wage numbers for Black workers are tied to the tight labor market that exists now. Usually, “low-wage, historically disenfranchised workers” benefit from such conditions, he told theGrio. “High-wage industries are shedding jobs. Not so among low-wage work.”
Perry continued, “However, as the Fed Reserve seeks a ‘soft landing,’ attempting to avoid a recession, whether or not its officials will look at improving conditions among Black and brown workers as a good thing for the economy remains to be seen.”
In “normal economic times,” he said, “the state of [those] same Black workers who are currently finding jobs are typically ignored.”
The Federal Reserve, which steadily increased interest rates to tame rising inflation, notably projected that the overall unemployment rate could rise by the end of the year, meaning the historically low Black unemployment rate could jump back to previous levels.
The Biden administration, however, remains optimistic.
“I think the truth of the matter is that a lot of projections by the Fed, by everybody else, over the last couple of years have been pretty off-base,” said Ramamurti. “I remember sitting here at my desk a year ago and everyone was saying we were about to enter a recession. And instead, what we’re seeing is that the unemployment rate hit literally a historic 50-year low since then.”
While Black workers are finding employment and their wages have increased slightly, many still struggle to afford their everyday living expenses and the racial wealth gap has historically persisted. Ramamurti admitted that current wages aren’t enough.
The Biden advisor said that is why the Biden administration continues to push to raise the federal minimum wage to $15. “It’s something that [President Biden] fought to get through Congress. Unfortunately, there was uniform opposition from Republicans,” said Ramamurti.
He continued, “I think the President has been clear that if you work full time, you should make enough money to support yourself and a family. There are still a lot of jobs in this country that don’t satisfy that.”