While a multiracial coalition of activists took to the streets to protest racial inequality throughout America’s criminal justice, political, and economic systems, Black workers continued to face a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s economic and public health burden, with an unemployment rate 5.6 percentage points greater than the pre-pandemic economic peak. Black workers faced unemployment rates of over 10% in 16 of the 22 states (including the District of Columbia) for which unemployment data for Black workers was available. Unemployment rates were highest for Black workers in Pennsylvania (19.5%), Michigan (17.9%), Illinois (15.7%) and the District of Columbia (15.6%). Black workers were more than twice as likely to be unemployed as white workers in the District of Columbia and four states: Alabama, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
The case of the District deserves special mention. The Black–white unemployment ratio was 4.5 in 2020Q3—that is, Black workers were 4.5 times as likely to be unemployed in our nation’s capital as white workers. D.C. has long outstripped the rest of the country in its Black–white unemployment ratio, which has spiked as high as 8.5 in recent years3—reflecting extreme inequality and marked occupational segregation in the District.4 That occupational segregation brought harsh pandemic outcomes for Black workers in D.C., who are disproportionately employed in occupations without access to the telework options that protected white workers from both the economic and the health shocks of the pandemic.5
Among states with available data, the unemployment rate for Black workers was lowest in Georgia, with a rate of 8.0%. The Black–white unemployment ratio in Georgia matched the national average at 1.6. North Carolina saw the lowest Black–white unemployment ratio in 2020Q3, with Black workers there 30% more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. In no state was the unemployment ratio less than or equal to 1 in 2020Q3—that is, there were no states where Black and white workers were equally likely to be unemployed, nor were there states where Black workers were less likely to be unemployed than white workers.2020Q3-Q4 | State unemployment by race and ethnicity | Economic Policy Institute