In the United States, the employment market in 2024 is showing a complex and mixed picture. The official US employment numbers were revised several times in 2023, indicating both that the labor market is in a state of flux and the government can’t get its act together.
Incompetence and uncertainty
Over the past year, the US government has released monthly employment statistics that have undergone several downward revisions. It seemed like every month the numbers would look great and by sleight of hand the last month’s were downgraded, out of sight. These revisions were significant and have had an impact on the overall perception of the job market’s performance.
A reason given for these revisions is that the initial estimates are based on surveys and data collected from a sample of businesses and households. As more comprehensive and accurate data becomes available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) adjusts the figures to reflect the true state of the labor market. Something is badly off with their sampling technique!
For example, in January 2024, the BLS revised down the employment gains in the second half of 2023 by an average of 27,000 per month. Similarly, in August 2023, the employment gains in July and August were revised down by a combined 119,000 jobs. These revisions indicate that the job market was not as robust as initially reported and may have been a cause for concern among policymakers and economists.
These downward revisions are not unusual, but the magnitude and consistency of the Bidenomics revisions over the past year have been noteworthy. They have led to a wary assessment of the job market’s performance and may have implications for future policy decisions, such as interest rates and government stimulus measures.
So while on one hand, there has been an overall increase in employment, with the job market adding an average of around 184,000 jobs per month in the past year we know that this steady growth has been driven by a robust and tight labor market, which has kept wages growing and, in turn, bolstered consumer spending.
However, this growth has not been evenly distributed. A significant number of people are working part-time or in a second job due to the rising cost of living and the need to make ends meet. Inflation has disproportionately affected the poor and those on fixed incomes, who have seen their purchasing power decline, particularly the Black population.
The Biden administration has had a mixed impact on Black people. On one hand, there was the American Rescue Plan, which aimed to provide economic relief and support to Black communities and which provided financial assistance to families and small businesses, many of whom were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. On the other hand, there are those who feel that the administration hasn’t done enough to address the specific challenges faced by Black people keen to work.
They have been quick to brag about their employment rates among the Black population, comparing COVID data with post-lockdown data.
Duh… Bidenflation forced EVERYONE to go to work; many having to take on second or third jobs.— The Conservative HellRazor (@HellRaz0r1776) January 19, 2024
The employment situation for black people in the US remains challenging. Despite the overall increase in employment, black people are still disproportionately affected by unemployment and underemployment. In 2023, the unemployment rate for African Americans jumped for a second straight month, indicating that the labor market for African Americans is still experiencing challenges. The Black-White employment gap has closed for the first time in American history, but it is crucial to consider other factors such as job quality and income disparities.
While the data show that African Americans are more likely to be working than white Americans, it is important to examine the types of jobs and industries they are employed in to understand the full picture. Black Americans are most likely to have jobs in industries such as healthcare, retail, and accommodation and food service, with 45% of Black private-sector workers employed in these three industries. In terms of specific occupations, Black workers are disproportionately represented in low-wage jobs such as nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal-care aides.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) first began reporting unemployment rates by race in 1954. Since then, the unemployment rate for Black Americans has consistently been around double that of white Americans. In 1972, the BLS began disaggregating the nonwhite unemployment rate and reporting an unemployment rate for blacks alone.
A recent study by the Brookings Institution found that the unemployment rate is even worse in many majority-African American metro areas. For example, in Washington, D.C., the African American unemployment rate was 11.6% in 2019, compared to a white unemployment rate of 3.8%.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Black men and women has been roughly double that of white men and women, respectively, since 1972.
Black workers are less likely to be found in the group of workers who were able to continue working from the safety of their homes post-pandemic as Black Americans are often employed in jobs that are considered essential, or were eliminated during the pandemic. This could be one of the reasons why they are more likely to work multiple jobs. Black workers have suffered record numbers of job losses over the last two months and many face economic insecurity.
While the US employment market in 2024 is showing signs of growth and resilience, it is also facing challenges related to the distribution of job opportunities, the impact of inflation on vulnerable populations, and the persistent racial disparities in employment outcomes.