The Unemployment Gap Between Black and White New Yorkers Is Widening

The gulf between Black and white unemployment rates in New York City is now the widest it has been this century, exceeding even the largest gap during the Great Recession, according to a new report.

In the first three months of the year, the unemployment rate for Black New Yorkers rose to 12.2 percent, the highest rate of any group, while the white unemployment rate dropped to 1.3 percent, the lowest it has been since 2000, according to the report, which was released Thursday by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. The overall unemployment rate among New Yorkers was 5.3 percent.

The New York City figures are out of step with the national picture. The nationwide Black unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in the first quarter of the year, and the white unemployment rate was 3.2 percent. National figures include Black Hispanic job seekers, whereas the New York data does not.

The Black and white unemployment rates in New York City have not continuously diverged for at least a year in about 25 years, and it is happening at a time when Black unemployment nationwide is approaching new lows, said James A. Parrott, a co-author of the report and the director of economic and fiscal policy at the center.

The widening gap now threatens the city’s recovery from the pandemic, potentially exacerbating income inequality in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

The stark racial differences in joblessness stem from a variety of factors, including the differences in the types of jobs that Black and white New Yorkers work, racism in the employment process and historical differences in job qualifications that are rooted in discriminatory policies of the past, experts said.

From 2020 to the end of 2021, with some of the strictest Covid-related rules in the nation, 310,000 New Yorkers lost their jobs to permanent business closures, and another 406,000 to downsizing, Dr. Parrott said.

But the unemployment gap is not fully explained by those losses. The industries that suffered the most were “face-to-face” trades like retail, construction and hospitality. Those losses disproportionately affected Latino workers, who have regained jobs faster than Black New Yorkers.

And some of the industries that added the most jobs in New York last year were tech and finance, leading to disproportionate gains for white and Asian job seekers, Dr. Parrott said.

The report used seasonally adjusted data, following a method used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

After both the white and Black unemployment rates fell throughout 2021, the Black unemployment rate began rising again in the first quarter of 2022, as the white unemployment rate continued to fall. The gap between the two has roughly doubled since, from 5.2 percentage points to 10.9 percentage points, Dr. Parrott said. The last time the unemployment gap came close to that was during the Great Recession, when it was 10.3 percentage points over the first half of 2009.

“This sort of sustained divergence hasn’t happened before,” at least in this century, Dr. Parrott said. “Race-based discrimination is a big part of that,” he said, noting that data shows Black job seekers are often among the last to be chosen for openings.

The city’s Economic Development Corporation, which uses a different method of analysis, reported on Friday that the rate of Black unemployment had risen to 10.4 percent while the white unemployment rate had fallen to 2.5 percent.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Adams said that since he took office last year, New York City had added more than 250,000 private sector jobs.

“But that opportunity has not been shared equally and we are taking aggressive action to rebuild an equitable economy that helps New Yorkers who were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and address the high unemployment rate among Black New Yorkers,” he said.

City and state policies to spur job growth have not focused enough on the hardest-hit communities, said Barika Williams, the executive director of the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, a nonprofit housing and economic justice coalition.

“Recovery is not happening evenly across the city,” she said, especially in majority-Black neighborhoods.

“That we are now in a bigger unemployment gap than we were in Covid feels shocking,” she added.

Ronnie Coaxum, 60, said he was laid off in 2020 from a position in the food and beverage division of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where he had worked for 36 years. The job search has been difficult; on Thursday, he traveled from his home in the South Bronx to a career center in Harlem, seeking work.

“I’ve been doing temp work, I’ve been doing security,” he said. “I’ve been doing maintenance jobs, just bouncing around.”

He was not surprised by the growing racial disparity in the unemployment rates. “It’s always been like that,” he said. “I feel it in job interviews, but I just have to be myself. I don’t let it bother me.”

The job search has also been difficult for younger people. About 17 percent of New Yorkers in the labor force between the ages of 18 and 24 were unemployed, according to the report, with young Black men disproportionately represented in that group.

And for Black men who have prior criminal convictions, the search can be doubly hard, said Christopher Watler, the executive vice president of the Center for Employment Opportunities, a career development agency for people with criminal records.

Raliek Mitchiner, 22, who had a conviction when he was a minor, said he did not receive calls back for several jobs he has applied for since 2021. “When they hear Raliek, they automatically assume ‘he’s Black,’” he said. “No one knows that I’m a good worker, I’m a good guy, and it sucks.”

Mr. Mitchiner began working as a paid intern in January at the Center for Employment Opportunities, and he also works the night shift as a support specialist at a mental health facility in the Bronx.

The first position was only open to him because of his past conviction. “I had to get in trouble to work,” he said. He landed the second thanks to a relative who referred him for the role.

On Thursday, Zsanay Anderson, 19, waited at the Department of Labor office in Downtown Brooklyn, hoping for an update on her application for unemployment benefits, which she had submitted six weeks earlier.

“They didn’t help,” Ms. Anderson said. “All they said is they’re still reviewing.”

Ms. Anderson lost her job in March as a case manager for a nonprofit social services agency, where she helped connect homeless people with shelter and mental health services. She lives in a domestic violence shelter in Flatbush with her mother, after they fled a physically abusive relationship in North Carolina last year.

In North Carolina, Ms. Anderson was working as a restaurant manager and preparing to go to college to earn a two-year degree. She said she planned to enroll in college in New York, and hoped she could go from living in a shelter to a dorm room.

But first, she wants to work. “I have plenty of experience,” she said, citing past roles in customer service and child care.

The search for a new job had gone “horribly” until earlier this week, she said, when she got a call from a social services provider in Brooklyn.

Her next stop was to visit the employer’s office for fingerprinting and a background check.

Wesley Parnell and Sean Piccoli contributed reporting.

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