WASHINGTON, D.C. — While American workers as a whole, particularly women, saw incremental growth in living-wage job opportunities in January, Black workers lost ground, according to an analysis by the Ludwig Institute for Shared Economic Prosperity (LISEP).
LISEP’s January True Rate of Unemployment (TRU) report found that the rate of Black workers who are “functionally unemployed” increased from 30.2% to 30.7%. This paints a different picture than the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, which presented an improving unemployment picture for Blacks in the workforce.
“While we are encouraged that the overall percentage of functionally unemployed Americans is slightly better, we remain concerned that the racial inequality gap is growing,” said LISEP Chair Gene Ludwig. “There are still far too many American families suffering due to the inability to find a living-wage job, particularly among Americans of color.”
Each month, LISEP issues the TRU report, which measures the percentage of American workers who are “functionally unemployed” – defined as those who are jobless, or who are seeking full-time work but unable to secure a position that earns above poverty-level wages. The TRU for January, at 24.4%, is a 0.7% improvement over the December report and the lowest since the 23.8% TRU in March 2020. By contrast, BLS reported an unemployment rate of 6.3% for January, an improvement over the 6.7% December rate.
The good news in the January TRU report includes gains for women in the workforce, who saw the biggest improvement, dropping from 30.4% in December to 28.5% in January. Hispanic workers also saw some improvement, from 31.6% to 29.9%, and White workers saw marginal improvement, from 22.7% to 22.3%. But Black workers were worse off, with TRU rising to 30.7% from 30.2%, while the BLS report presented an improving unemployment picture for Blacks in the workforce, dropping from 9.9% in December to 9.2% in January.
This, Ludwig said, is an indication that while more Black workers are finding jobs, they are largely low-wage positions that fail to lift workers above the poverty level.
“While we are inching closer to pre-pandemic employment levels, this simply is not good enough – Americans need jobs that can support a family,” said Ludwig. “The pending COVID relief package is not only a necessity to relieve suffering among families across the nation, but it is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to begin closing the income inequality gap, address racial inequalities, and to build back an economy where everyone can participate, equally.”
Meanwhile, some gradual reopening of the service industry seems to have aided in improving the TRU levels for workers with lower educational attainment levels. For those with less than a high-school diploma, the TRU improved by 2.6 percentage points, although it still remains exceedingly high, at 46.7%. For those with only a high-school diploma, the rate improved to 29.8%, compared to 30.5% in December.
LISEP issued the white paper “Measuring Better: Development of ‘True Rate of Unemployment’ Data as the Basis for Social and Economic Policy” upon announcing the new statistical measure in October. The paper and methodology can be viewed here. LISEP issues TRU one to two weeks following the release of the BLS unemployment report, which occurs on the first Friday of each month. The TRU rate and supporting data are available on the LISEP website at www.lisep.org.
LISEP was created in 2019 by Ludwig and his wife, Dr. Carol Ludwig. The mission of LISEP is to improve the economic well-being of middle- and lower-income Americans through research and education, and seeks to advance the dialogue around policy solutions to improve the well-being of all Americans.
In addition to his role as LISEP chair, Gene Ludwig is founder of the Promontory family of companies and Canapi LLC, the nation’s largest financial technology venture fund. He is the CEO of Promontory Financial Group and chairman and CEO of Promontory MortgagePath, a technology-based mortgage fulfillment and solutions company. Ludwig is the former vice chairman and senior control officer of Bankers Trust New York Corp., and served as the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency from 1993 to 1998. He is also author of the book The Vanishing American Dream, which investigates the economic challenges facing low- and middle-income Americans. It was released in September 2020 by Disruption Books.