Black Workers, Already Lagging, Face Big Economic Risks

Black employment rates are plummeting, and the evolving wealth and income hit could fall on the shoulders of those ill-equipped to bear it.

WASHINGTON — The coronavirus recession has hit black Americans particularly hard, amplifying racial inequalities that may worsen as the economy begins what is expected to be a slow climb back to where it was before the crisis.

Black Americans have been slightly more likely to lose jobs or income in the recession that took root as states locked down their economies. They are more worried about the financial toll from the virus than white Americans and have far fewer resources available to ride it out, given that they earn less money and have had less ability to build wealth. And they are dying at higher rates from the virus than whites.

Unemployment rates for black workers had dipped to an all-time low just before the pandemic, a piece of good news that the Federal Reserve had latched onto as a sign that a strong economy was generating broadly shared gains. The pandemic has swiftly ended that era.

As the prospects for a rapid recovery dwindle and Americans face what could be a prolonged stretch of high unemployment and suppressed income growth, black households are confronting the prospect of a widening economic chasm.

While job losses tied to the economic shutdown have spared no racial or ethnic group, there are reasons to worry that black and other minority workers could suffer disproportionately as companies call back some — but not all — furloughed employees.

In part because they make less, black workers accumulate less wealth over time. The end result is that they have less money in their bank accounts to make it through extended economic weakness, as the United States could face in recovering from the pandemic. The typical black household has one-tenth the wealth of a typical white household, according to Federal Reserve data.

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