Racial gap in U.S. jobless rate narrows for first time in five months

FILE PHOTO: People who lost their jobs wait in line to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, U.S. April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

(Reuters) – The gap in unemployment rates between Blacks and whites in the United States narrowed for the first time in five months in September, after having mushroomed to the widest in nearly six years over the summer.

The jobless rate for Blacks dropped by 0.9 percentage point to 12.1% in September from 13.0% in August, while the rate for whites dropped at a slower rate of 0.3 percentage point to 7.0% from 7.3% a month earlier, data from the U.S. Labor Department showed on Friday. The overall U.S. unemployment rate fell more than expected last month to 7.9% from 8.4% in August.

The 5.1 percentage point gap was the narrowest since May, when it began widening as the job market’s recovery from record employment losses in March and April benefited whites far more than Blacks.

The pandemic ended a record-long U.S. economic expansion at a point when a tight labor market had begun delivering benefits to Blacks and other groups left behind in the earlier stages of recovery from the previous recession. In August 2019, the Black unemployment rate was a record-low 5.4% and the gap with the white rate had been its narrowest ever at 2 percentage points.

The racial gap in U.S. jobless rates has come under closer scrutiny in the months since the pandemic struck and exacerbated long-standing racial economic inequality. The widening also occurs against a backdrop of protests against police violence against Blacks, which has become a central issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

(Graphic: Black vs white unemployment – )

Reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Andrea Ricci

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