Black Women Make Major Employment Gains

Freddie Allen | 5/17/2012, 3:09 p.m.

Black women are making the most significant gains in employment but still lag behind Whites, according to the Labor Department.

The most recent jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate for Black women, 20 and older, dropped from 12.3 percent in March to 10.8 percent in April, a decline of 1.5 percent. More significantly, the jobless rate for Black women has fallen 3 percentage points over the past five months, the largest decline for any demographic over that period.

The unemployment rate for White women, 20 and older has remained flat at 6.8 percent from last December to April, but that stagnant rate is still four percentage points better than the current rate for Black women. The jobless rate for Black men fell to 13.6 percent from 15.7 percent over the same period, but some economists warn that those figures could be misleading.

"There are two things driving down the unemployment rate," said Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley's Labor Center. "The improvement in job prospects and simultaneously some Black men dropping out of the labor force."

When people quit looking for work, they are no longer counted as unemployed. Consequently, the labor force shrinks, causing the unemployment rate to go down. The unemployment rate for Blacks fell from 14 percent in March to 13 percent in April.

"The unemployment rate might look like an improvement, but it's really just people giving up," explained Algernon Austin, director of the Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy program at the Economic Policy Institute.

In a 2011 study, the National Women's Law Center found that Black women lost 233,000 jobs between December 2007 and June 2009, and then lost another 258,000 between June 2009 and June 2011 for a total of 491,000. Black men lost 477,000 jobs between December 2007 and June 2011.

According to the study, not only are Black women a majority of the African-American workforce [53.4 percent], they head a majority of Black families with children.

More Black women are the heads of households now, "So they have to work, " explained Maudine Cooper, president of the Greater Washington Urban League. "They'll often accept less money than a man would be making in the same job."

A 2012 study on the pay gap conducted by the American Association of University Women found that women working full-time earned just 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man. Black women working full-time make just 70 cents for every dollar White men make and 91 cents for every dollar Black men bring home. White women, on the other hand, received 82 cents for every dollar a White man earns. White men are often used as a benchmark, because at this time they are the largest demographic group in the labor force.

For Cooper, a college education still remains the Black community's strongest ally in closing the economic gap.

More than 44 percent of Black women graduate from college, compared to 33.1 percent of Black men, according to the U.S. Department of Education.