In December, the unemployment rate among white workers dropped to 3.2%—the lowest level since prior to the pandemic—but rose to 7.1% for Black workers. Black women, in particular, were hard hit by job losses in December. Unemployment among this group rose by 1.3 percentage points, after dropping sharply in November.

“Many people put too much weight on the drop in November,” says Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “I hoped it was reflective of vast improvements to the labor market, but I’m not surprised to see the data course-corrected.”

There have been improvements to the job market for Black workers over the past year, Gould notes. The unemployment rate is down from its pandemic peak of 16.8% in May 2020. “But I’m certainly troubled by the fact that we’re now sitting at Black unemployment that’s more than twice as high as white unemployment,” she says.

Black workers are consistently unemployed at higher rates than white workers in the US, a disparity that’s persisted for years. But the gap is wider now than it was two years ago. The Black unemployment rate was 2.7 percentage points higher than the white unemployment rate in Dec. 2019, while today’s jobs report showed a gap of 3.9 points.

Gould stresses it’s important not to read too much into one month of data. It’s become harder to evaluate employment indicators during the pandemic. The number of jobs employers added in December, for example, paints a picture of a more subdued job market than the unemployment rate suggests. US jobs rose by 199,000 last month, less than half what economists had forecast, but that number could be revised upward as was the case in October and November.

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