The Unemployment Gap Between Black and White New Yorkers Is Widening

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A new study reveals that the unemployment disparity between Black and white citizens in New York City is now at its largest in this century, surpassing even the pronounced gap during the Great Recession.

Reports indicate that in the first quarter, unemployment among Black New Yorkers increased to 12.2 percent – the highest for any group. Conversely, unemployment for white New Yorkers declined to 1.3 percent, a figure unmatched since 2000, according to the study published Thursday by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. The citywide unemployment stood at 5.3 percent.

The concerning trend in New York City appears to be an anomaly compared to the national picture. Nationally, unemployment among Black Americans was 5.4 percent in Q1, while white unemployment stood at 3.2 percent. It’s worth noting that national statistics encompass Black Hispanic job seekers, which the NYC data does not.

New York’s black and white unemployment rates have not diverged consistently for at least a year in roughly 25 years. It’s all the more alarming as black unemployment is nearing record lows nationally, said James A. Parrott, a co-author of the report and the director of economic and fiscal policy at the center.

This discrepancy may hinder the city’s recovery from the pandemic, potentially exacerbating income inequality in one of the most expensive cities globally.

Several elements contribute to this stark racial unemployment disparity, including the nature of jobs employed by Black and white New Yorkers, employment process racism, and historical differences in job credentials rooted in past discriminatory policies, experts suggest.

From 2020 to the end of 2021, severest COVID-19 regulations across the nation led to 310,000 New Yorkers losing their jobs due to permanent business shutdowns, and another 406,000 due to downsizing, observed Dr. Parrott.

These loss figures, however, don’t fully explain the unemployment disparity. Industries like retail, construction, and hospitality were hardest hit. Despite these losses disproportionately impacting Latino workers, they have been able to recover jobs quicker than Black New Yorkers.

Moreover, industries like tech and finance that grew significantly in New York last year resulted in disproportionate job gains for white and Asian job seekers, added Dr. Parrott.

The study utilized seasonally adjusted data, in accordance with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ method.

Following the decline in both white and Black unemployment rates throughout 2021, the Black unemployment rate resumed its upward trajectory in Q1 2022, while white unemployment continued to go down. The gap approximately doubled, rising from 5.2 percentage points to 10.9 percentage points as per Dr. Parrott. The unemployment gap last neared this during the Great Recession, hitting 10.3 percentage points over the first half of 2009.

“This sort of prolonged divergence is unprecedented,” at least this century, said Dr. Parrott. “Race-based discrimination plays a significant role,” he noted, highlighting that the data reveals Black job applicants often face discrimination.

Contrarily, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, using a different analytical approach, announced on Friday that the Black unemployment rate increased to 10.4 percent, while the white unemployment rate decreased to 2.5 percent.

Commenting on the situation, Mayor Eric Adams stated that over 250,000 private sector jobs were added in New York City since he took office last year.

“But the opportunities have not been equally shared, and we are actively working to build a fair economy that aids New Yorkers who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic and addresses the high Black unemployment rate,” he added.

Barika Williams, executive director of the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, a nonprofit housing and economic justice alliance, pointed out that state and city policies to stimulate job growth have inadequately addressed the most affected communities.

“The recovery isn’t happening evenly across the city,” she remarked, particularly in predominantly black neighborhoods.

“The fact that we are now dealing with a larger unemployment gap than during Covid is stunning,” she added.

Ronnie Coaxum, 60, who was laid off from his Marriott Marquis hotel job in 2020, where he had worked for 36 years, described his job hunt as challenging. On Thursday, he traveled from his home in South Bronx to a Harlem career center seeking employment.

“I’ve moved towards temporary jobs, security work, and even maintenance roles—I’m really just moving from one job to the next,” he stated.

The escalating racial inequality in unemployment rates was not a surprise for him. “It has always been like this,” he admitted. “I perceive it during job interviews, but I stay true to myself. I don’t let it bother me.”

Job hunting has been equally hard for younger individuals. According to the study, approximately 17 percent of New Yorkers in the workforce aged 18 to 24 were jobless, with young Black men overrepresented in this cohort.

And for Black men with previous criminal records, seeking employment is twice as grueling, pointed out Christopher Watler, executive vice president of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a career development organization for individuals with criminal backgrounds.

Raliek Mitchiner, 22, who had a juvenile conviction, shared his woes regarding his job search since 2021, stating that he received no responses for multiple job applications. “People automatically assume that I’m Black when they hear my name, Raliek. Nobody is aware that I’m a hard worker and good person—it’s really disheartening,” he expressed.

Mitchiner started working as a paid intern at the Center for Employment Opportunities in January, and also holds a night shift role as a support specialist at a Bronx mental health facility.

The first job was only available to him due to his prior conviction. “It’s unfortunate that I had to land in trouble to get a job,” he said. His second job came about owing to a familial referral.

On Thursday, 19-year-old Zsanay Anderson was at the Department of Labor office in Downtown Brooklyn, hopeful for an update on her unemployment benefits application, which she had submitted six weeks prior.

“They didn’t provide much assistance,” said Ms. Anderson. “All they said was that they’re still reviewing.”

Ms. Anderson was laid off in March from her role as a case manager at a non-profit social services agency. Currently, she lives in a Flatbush domestic violence shelter with her mother, following their escape from an abusive relationship in North Carolina in the previous year.

In North Carolina, Ms. Anderson held a restaurant manager’s job and had plans to attend college for a two-year degree. She has plans of enrolling at a college in New York, with hopes of moving from a shelter to a dorm room.

Before that, she needs to find work. “I have abundant experience,” she said, referring to her past roles in customer service and child care.

Her job hunt was “going horribly” until earlier this week when she received a call from a social service provider in Brooklyn.

Her next stop was for fingerprinting and background checks at the employer’s office.

Reporting by Wesley Parnell and Sean Piccoli.

The Unemployment Disparity Between Black and White New Yorkers Is Increasing