By Madison Hoff
February is Black History Month, when the achievements of Black Americans are recognized and celebrated.
Although the US has come a long way in working toward equity in the workplace and recognizing the work and contributions of Black Americans, there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality. That can be seen in figures like the Black-white wealth gap, Black-white wage gap, high unemployment rates for Black Americans even before the pandemic, and low representation in the c-suites of America’s largest companies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified many of those inequities. The unemployment rate for both Black men and women spiked higher than white men and women during the spring, and the rate for Black men is still higher among these four demographics. It has also affected their businesses and the strides they have made in the workplace. Research shows that there have also been more Black deaths from the novel coronavirus than among other racial and ethnic groups.
We decided to look at the impact coronavirus has had on Black Americans and data that highlights the white-Black gap.
The following 15 charts show disparities and inequalities that still exist for Black Americans.
The employment-to-population ratio is a popular metric to look at how much of the working-age population is employed in the labor force. This ratio has been lower for Black Americans over the years compared to white or Hispanic Americans.
This ratio looks at share of the population in each race or ethnicity with a job. Although the ratio for Black Americans has increased in the years following the Great Recession, the rate has historically been lower for Black Americans than white or Hispanic and Latino Americans.
The employment-to-population ratio for Black Americans was 59.3% in February 2020 and dropped to 48.8% in April 2020 when millions of Americans were laid off or had to leave the workforce during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
White Americans saw a similar drop from 61.3% to 51.7%, but the ratio at the end of 2020 was higher than for Black Americans. Although the employment-to-population ratio increased for all of these demographics since the spring, they are still below pre-pandemic rates.
Layoffs have negatively impacted workers, especially Black workers. A Morning Consult poll, reported by Insider in April, found nearly 20% of Black Americans said that they knew someone in their household that had lost their job amid the crisis.
Labor force participation has been low for Black Americans. At the end of December 2020, the rate for Black Americans was 1.8 percentage points lower than the rate for white Americans.
The labor force participation rate includes people who are working or actively looking for work.
The policy institute Center for American Progress wrote in an analysis that the gap between white and Black workers for both the employment-population ratio and labor force participation rate has narrowed over time. Right before the pandemic hit, the rate was 63.1% for Black Americans and 63.2% for white Americans in February 2020. Although the rate has fluctuated for Black Americans since the Great Recession, the rate for white Americans has steadily dropped.
Because of the effects of the pandemic, labor force participation has dropped for white, Black, and Hispanic Americans, as people have faced layoffs and stopped seeking work. However, Black and Hispanic Americans saw a bigger drop in April than white Americans. All rates were still below pre-pandemic rates at the end of 2020.
Referrals can make it easier for people to connect with employers, but this can impact Black Americans seeking work. A PayScale report covered by NBC found that people who received referrals were “overwhelmingly white men” which PayScale Vice President Lydia Frank said makes sense given their labor force participation.
The unemployment rate for Black Americans has been roughly double the unemployment rate among white workers for most of the years since this figure was tracked.
The pandemic has disproportionately affected the employment of Black and Hispanic workers. The Economic Policy Institute wrote in an analysis that Black workers are less likely to be in jobs that can be done remotely and more likely to be in jobs considered essential or in jobs that have experienced major job losses amid the pandemic.
However, Black Americans had a higher unemployment rate even before the devastating impact of the pandemic on workers. Although the unemployment rate for Black Americans fell from 16.8% in March 2010 to 6.0% in February 2020, these rates were still higher than the unemployment rate for white Americans.
The Center for American Progress wrote in its analysis that the Black unemployment rate has consistently been about double that of the white unemployment rate since this figure was first tracked. It only was a little less than double the rate of white unemployment around the Great Recession.
The unemployment rate is still high for both demographics after falling in recent months, but getting Black workers back to work may be especially difficult. Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress previously told Insider that Black Americans tend to be the first ones to lose their jobs in a recession and last to regain them.
Black men have had high unemployment rates over the years, and the rate is almost double the unemployment rate of white men at the end of 2020.
The unemployment rate for Black men has been higher than for Black women and white Americans over time. The unemployment rate for Black women was a few percentage points higher than Black men during April and May, however, but has since fallen. All rates are still higher than they were before the pandemic.
“For men, the Black-white unemployment gap is mostly due to high labor force exit rates for African Americans,” The Center for American Progress wrote in an analysis.
There were about 125,000 Black-owned businesses in 2018. The pandemic has been hard for small businesses, including Black-owned businesses.
The number of Black-owned businesses has grown in recent years, especially for Black women. In the most recent survey conducted by the Census Bureau, there were 124,551 Black-owned businesses, with most of these businesses in healthcare and social assistance. The Census Bureau wrote the share of Black-owned businesses in this particular sector was 28.5%, or over 35,000 businesses, “the highest percentage of any minority group.”
The pandemic has been especially hard on Black-owned businesses. A New York Fed report found that the number of active Black business owners fell by 41% between February and April 2020, nearly double the overall closure rate of 22%.
“Data from counties nationwide show Black-owned firms are more likely to be located in COVID-19 hot spots, whereas white-owned firms are less likely to be in the most heavily affected areas,” the authors wrote in the report as one of the reasons to explain this drop.
But McKinsey notes that the economic state of some Black entrepreneurs were already struggling. According to McKinsey, 58% of Black-owned businesses were already “at risk of financial distress”, compared to 27% of white-owned businesses.
The Black-white wage gap continues to exist. Black women only make about 66% of what white men make.
Black women make 90.7% of what Black men make. Among respondents on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey who described themselves as being a single race, this is the highest share of what women made as a percent of men in the same demographic. However, they also make less than what Asian and white women and men make.
The wages of Black workers have historically been lower than those of white workers. This gap has been growing, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, citing research that finds factors like discrimination and opportunity differences contribute to this gap.
The gap can be seen by how much Black women make compared to white men. White men’s median earnings were $57,003 in 2019 per the American Community Survey, while Black women made $37,402. That is, Black women made about 66% of what white men made. Among the different demographics, Asian women were closest to making what white men made with a median earnings of $56,001.
White households have held the most wealth since 1989; the aggregate wealth of Black households was about 4.5% that of white wealth in the third quarter of 2020.
The aggregate wealth for Black Americans is much smaller than the wealth of white Americans. At the end of 2020, white household wealth was nearly $100 trillion compared to nearly $5 trillion for Black households.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland wrote in its research that the income gap is the “primary driver” of the Black-white wealth gap and contributes to this continuation of Black wealth falling behind white wealth.
The share of wealth held by Black households has not changed much over the years. In the third quarter of 1989, white households held 90.6% of the total wealth compared to 3.8% of Black households. In the third quarter of 2020, white households held 84.6% of the total wealth compared to 3.8% held by Black households.
Even among people in the highest income percentile, white families have more wealth than Black families in the same household income bracket, according to an analysis by Brookings of the Federal Reserve data.
“White families receive much larger inheritances on average than Black families,” Brookings wrote.
The Economic Policy Institute wrote that Black Americans historically have had high unemployment rates, low wages, and less savings putting them at already vulnerable financial state compared to white Americans.
“This prior insecurity has magnified the current economic damage to these workers and their families,” the Economic Policy Institute wrote about the pandemic’s negative impact on Black workers.
The number of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies has barely changed over the past two decades.
There has been a lack of diversity in the c-suite. The number of Black, Hispanic, and Asian CEOs in Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies has doubled from 4.3% in 2004 to 9.5% in 2020 per a report from Crist Kolder Associates. However, the number for Black Americans in these companies has not changed much over the past two decades.
According to the report, there are only five Black CEOS, one less than the reported figure in 2004. This means Black CEOs make up less than one percent of the total CEOs in these companies.
Unlike CEOs, the number of Black CFOs has increased in these companies since 2004, and this number hit the double digits in 2017.
But there is still a long way to go for Black representation at the top of the corporate ladder.
“Even the most advanced companies, with regards to diversity and inclusion, are still struggling to advance Black and brown employees from middle management into more senior positions,” Stephanie Creary, assistant professor of management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania previously told Insider.
The Fortune 500 companies have lacked Black representation over the past decades. There have only been 19 Black CEOs since the 1955 Fortune 500 list.
There is also very little Black female representation in the c-suite. Roz Brewer is stepping down as Starbucks’ chief operating officer at the end of February to become the CEO of Walgreens. She will be one of five Black CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, but Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier is retiring this year. She will also be the only Black female CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Although Congress has become more diverse, Black representation in the House of Representatives and Senate is still low.
In politics, diversity has also increased over the years. For instance, President Joe Biden said his cabinet would be “the most diverse in history.” And per Insider’s analysis, Biden’s Cabinet and White House staff are made up of at least 50% people of color.
Year after year, there have been more Black members in Congress, and there have been 50 Black voting members since the 115th in 2017 congress. According to Pew Research, the 117th Congress is the most diverse Congress yet with 59 Black members, excluding non-voting members and commissioners. Pew Research wrote that the majority of non-white members in Congress are Democrats.
Black Americans make up a smaller share of many managerial and professional positions compared to other races and ethnicities.
We can also look at the highest-paying major occupational category, management and professional occupations, to see how many Black Americans hold these roles compared to other demographics. According to an analysis of employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55% percent of employed Asians worked in management, professional, and related occupations, while 32% of employed Blacks work in this category.
Among employed men, 26% of Black men worked in this highest-paying occupational category and among employed women, 37% of Black women worked in this category.
As Insider previously reported, this may be because of “racist hiring practices that kept Blacks out of business for decades under Jim Crow” and prejudices in the workplace.
The share of Black households that own their own homes has been historically lower than white households.
Insider wrote in a previous analysis about systemic racism in the US that “lower incomes and higher rates of poverty, combined with difficulties in getting mortgage approval, mean that homeownership rates for Black Americans remain low.”
And the Urban Institute found that in every US city with large Black populations, there is a homeownership rate gap between white and Black Americans.
Over the years, homeownership rates have been much higher for white Americans than Black Americans. The homeownership rate for white Americans has been around 75% while Black homeownership has been around between 40% to around 50%. Homeownership for Black Americans hit a low of 40.6% in the second quarter of 2019. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the homeownership rate was about 1.7 times higher than that of Black Americans.
White Americans continue to be more likely than Black Americans to have a bachelor’s or graduate degree.
A higher share of white Americans have a bachelor’s or graduate degree compared to the share of Black Americans. Of Black Americans who were 25 years or older in 2019, 13.9% had a bachelor’s degree, compared to 21.3% of white Americans.
Student debt is also a bigger burden on Black Americans. According to Brookings, Black borrowers graduate with $7,400 more student loan debt on average than white borrowers. Insider previously reported that about 87% of black students borrow federal loans to attend four-year colleges, compared to about 60% of white students.
The pandemic not only has largely impacted employment but the health of Black Americans. The death ratio for Black Americans to non-Hispanic white Americans was 1.9.
Based on data updated as of February 18 from the CDC, coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations were all higher for Black Americans than for non-Hispanic white Americans. There have also been previous CDC reports that show the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black Americans.
The COVID Tracking Project shows similar results. Based on this data as of February 24, 70,215 Black Americans have died. That is 1.4 times higher than the coronavirus death rate of white Americans.
A study, previously reported by Insider, with over 18 million participants found Black people in the US and UK are twice as likely to contract the novel coronavirus than white people. The Mayo Clinic wrote that one reason for more COVID-19 cases for people of color could be because they are more likely to have underlying health conditions.
They may also be in jobs that require close contact with other people, putting their health at risk amid the pandemic.
For instance, EPI wrote Black workers make up 11.9% of the workforce but 17.0% of frontline workers, including a high share in public transit and trucking or warehousing. This can put their health at risk while working closely with others and not being able to work these jobs from home.
The CDC looked at the 6.7 million people who received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine and where their race or ethnicity is known. Among the known yet limited data, 359,934 were Black compared to over 4 million white Americans.
Since the vaccination was first distributed in the US, there have been over 66 million vaccines administered per KFF’s tracking data.
But the distribution of the vaccine among racial and ethnic groups may differ.
“Based on vaccinations with known race/ethnicity, the share of vaccinations among Black people is smaller than their share of cases in all 16 reporting states and smaller than their share of deaths in 15 states,” KFF wrote in January.
A CDC report takes a deeper dive of the demographics for people who have received at least one dose between December 14, 2020 and January 14, 2021. Race and ethnicity data were only available for 6.7 million people, or 51.9% of the vaccine recipients, so this data is limited and doesn’t give a full picture of all Americans who have been vaccinated.
Among those recipients for whom race was known, non-Hispanic white Americans made up the largest share who received at least one dose at 60.4%, while only 5.4% were Black. Again, it is possible that more Black Americans received the dose, given the race for nearly half of the reported data is unknown.
Insider’s analysis of six states with reported vaccination data by race and ethnicity and that are among the states with the 10 largest Black populations shows Black Americans have a lower share than white Americans in receiving the vaccine. Insider did note that it was still early on in the rollout of the vaccine.
But some Black Americans are unsure whether they are getting the vaccine. A Pew Research survey in November found that only 42% of Black Americans said they would probably or definitely get the vaccine.
“It’s not so much that Black people or other minorities are unwilling to take [the vaccines], but there is really unequal access to the cutting edge of medicine and medical technology — and that is, in some respects, a bigger problem than reticence to take new treatments,” Tina Sacks, assistant professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare previously told Insider.
The share of Black Americans without health insurance in 2019 was about double the rate for white Americans.
Health coverage is especially important amid the pandemic.
“Members of racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to encounter barriers to getting care, such as a lack of health insurance or not being paid when missing work to get care,” Mayo Clinic wrote.
And more Black Americans are uninsured than white Americans. Based on 2019 data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, 9.6% of people without health insurance are Black compared to 5.2% of non-Hispanic white.
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