Black workers are caught in the middle of a sluggish economic recovery as the January federal jobs report shows weak additions to the number of people employed nationwide as we continue to battle a pandemic that has eroded jobs over the past year.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released Friday (Feb. 5), the economy only added 49,000 jobs in January, which is down about 10 million jobs since before the coronavirus hit the country. The unemployment rate actually fell to 6.3 percent, but that number is nowhere near what is needed to exit the economic crisis.
The unemployment rate has significantly affected Black people, families, and communities as the overall rate is 9.2 percent, down from 9.9 percent in Dec. 2020. Broken down by gender, Black women face a rate of 8.5 percent, up slightly from 8.4 percent in December, and Black men are at 9.4 percent, down from 10.4 percent in December, but still the most affected of all demographics.
The dismal numbers are the first reported under the Biden-Harris administration. The numbers made a case for his $1.9 trillion relief package, giving most Americans $1,400 checks and $400 in unemployment benefits and state payments. Two federal jobless aid programs would also be extended from March 13 through September.
Early Friday morning, the Senate voted 51-50 to move forward a budget resolution for President Biden’s relief plan with Vice President Harris casting her first tie-breaking vote. The resolution allows Democrats to circumvent the 60 votes needed to approve legislation like this.
In a meeting with House Democrats Friday morning, Biden underscored the urgency of getting the package passed.
“President Obama put me in charge of the  recovery act and it was hard as hell to get the votes for it to begin with and then it was hard as hell to get the number we got,” said Biden. “One thing we learned is we can’t do too much here. We can do too little.”
Biden pledged to address Black unemployment in the economic recovery plan that he announced before taking office by addressing the systemic racism that has fueled discrimination that in turn contributes to joblessness.
“The Black and Latino unemployment gap remains too large,” Biden said in December. “Communities of color are left to ask whether they will ever be able to break the cycle where in good times they lag, in bad times they are hit first and the hardest, and in recovery they take the longest to bounce back.”
The White House has launched a racial equity initiative led by former United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to address systemic racism at the federal level. As of Jan. 20, agencies were charged to review their individual states’ ‘equity and deliver an action plan within 200 days to deal with barriers in opportunity.
Biden’s strategy under the “Build Back Better” program also includes creating financial and venture capital opportunities for minority enterprises, creating better access to affordable homeownership in communities of color, and restructuring “opportunity zones” to help small businesses function better.