Unemployment charge falls for Black Hispanic employees, steady for Asians

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The unemployment rate fell in April for black and Hispanic workers but remained stable for Asian American workers.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US unemployment rate fell to 3.4% last month. The number not only marked a 3.5% drop in March, but also hit its lowest reading since 1969.

Unemployment for black workers fell sharply, falling to 4.7% in April from 5% in the previous month. Similarly, the unemployment rate among Hispanic workers fell from 4.6% to 4.4% last month.

For Asian American workers, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 2.8% from March.

“Unemployment rates remain low across the board and remain historically low for black workers,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s race, ethnicity and economics program.

With an overall unemployment rate of less than 4%, the gap in rates between racial demographic groups is also narrowing, she added.

Unexpected drivers

A closer look at the labor force participation rate — a measure of the number of people looking for work — reveals an underlying factor behind the falling unemployment rate among black workers in this latest report.

“The black unemployment rate has kind of gone down for bizarre reasons,” said AFL-CIO chief economist William Spriggs. That’s because the black labor force participation rate fell to 63% in April from 64.1% in March, he said. For black men, the rate dropped from 70.5% to 67.8%.

Putting this finding alongside the declining unemployment rate suggests that there are unemployed people who either stopped looking for a job or didn’t get one at this point.

“It’s an oddly mixed message,” Wilson said. “But again, if you look at the longer-term trend, it’s still pretty solid and stable with what we’ve seen over the past few months.”

Longer-term trends also show a slight increase in the Asian American labor force participation rate, which was 64.9% in April – the same as in March. A year ago, the participation rate for this demographic was 64.5%. “This is also a sign of continued job growth as more people enter the labor market,” Wilson said.

Identify green shoots

The April payroll report showed huge gains in the health and social services industries – an increase of more than 64,000 jobs – while government jobs swelled by 23,000.

The growth in these jobs is a positive development, Spriggs said, especially for women and people of color, as they typically hold senior positions in healthcare and public service.

“The fact that these sectors are doing well and people are still hiring is good news for equity issues,” he said.

— CNBC’s Gabriel Cortes contributed to the coverage.

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