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Labor Market Outcomes

Chart data last updated: January 9, 2023

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Examining published labor market performance measures by race is one way to monitor economic inclusion. While we recognize that there are many dimensions to this important issue, these regularly updated data series allow for a timely national perspective on economic inclusion and racial equity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data we report on this page treat race and Hispanic origin as two separate and distinct concepts. People who are Hispanic may be of any race. People in each race group may be either Hispanic or not Hispanic. The statistical implications of this are further discussed at the Bureau of the Census.

Employment rate

  • The most fundamental indicator of a group’s involvement in the economy is the employment rate, otherwise known as the employment-to-population ratio, which reports the fraction of a group that is employed at any given time. Historically, there are marked differences in the employment rate by race, with the greatest differences between Black and white populations. These differences reflect longer-term variances in opportunities; however, they also reflect the greater sensitivity of minority employment to recessions. That is, minority employment tends to be affected more deeply by recessions than does white employment. Racial disparities in the employment rate tend to grow during recessions and shrink during expansions. Both the pandemic-related decreases in employment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based, but employment losses have tended to be more persistent for Hispanic populations.

  • The most fundamental indicator of a group’s involvement in the economy is the employment rate, otherwise known as the employment-to-population ratio, which reports the fraction of a group that is employed at any given time. Historically, there are marked differences in the employment rate by race, with the greatest differences between Black and white populations. These differences reflect longer-term variances in opportunities; however, they also reflect the greater sensitivity of minority employment to recessions. That is, minority employment tends to be affected more deeply by recessions than does white employment. Racial disparities in the employment rate tend to grow during recessions and shrink during expansions. Both the pandemic-related decreases in employment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based, but employment losses have tended to be more persistent for Hispanic populations.

Labor force participation rate

  • An individual is participating in the labor market if he or she is either working or actively looking for work. Individuals considered not participating in the labor market may be, for example, students, family caretakers, retired, or unable to work because of a disability. Differences in the participation rate by race tend to be smaller than differences in the employment rate by race and usually show little change in pattern during recessions. However, the pattern has shifted during the pandemic. Both the pandemic-related decreases in employment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based, but participation rate declines have tended to be more persistent for white and Hispanic populations.

  • An individual is participating in the labor market if he or she is either working or actively looking for work. Individuals considered not participating in the labor market may be, for example, students, family caretakers, retired, or unable to work because of a disability. Differences in the participation rate by race tend to be smaller than differences in the employment rate by race and usually show little change in pattern during recessions. However, the pattern has shifted during the pandemic. Both the pandemic-related decreases in employment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based, but participation rate declines have tended to be more persistent for Hispanic populations.

Unemployment rate

  • The unemployment rate refers to those without a job who are actively looking for work or are waiting to be recalled from a temporary layoff. The rate highlights the effects of recessions and recoveries on workers. Historically, Black unemployment has been significantly higher than white unemployment. Furthermore, racial discrepancies in unemployment tend to grow during recessions and shrink during recoveries. Both the pandemic-related decreases in unemployment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based.

  • The unemployment rate refers to those without a job who are actively looking for work or are waiting to be recalled from a temporary layoff. The rate highlights the effects of recessions and recoveries on workers. Historically, Black unemployment has been significantly higher than white unemployment. Furthermore, racial discrepancies in unemployment tend to grow during recessions and shrink during recoveries. Both the pandemic-related decreases in unemployment and the subsequent recovery have been broad-based.

For a more in-depth discussion of evolving labor market outcomes by race see Racial Gaps in Labor Market Outcomes in the Last Four Decades and over the Business Cycle.