“Baffling”: 27% of Young Black Women Were Unemployed in August

ID: image of a group of people at a protest. In the foreground, a young person holds up a sign that reads "Black women matter!"
Unemployment rates for Black women between the ages of 20 and 24 rose to 26.8 percent in August—up from 25.4 percent in July. (Alek Perkins / Flickr)

The U.S. is now eight months deep into the coronavirus, and with the pandemic and subsequent economic collapse showing no signs of slowing, many continue to struggle with unemployment.

Yet while headlines and the president lauded last month’s minor decrease in unemployment numbers, they overlooked Black women—and young Black women in particular—who continue to suffer the worst economic hardship.

Unemployment rates for Black women between the ages of 20 and 24 rose to 26.8 percent in August—up from 25.4 percent in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August jobs report published last week.

Jasmine Tucker, director of research for the National Women’s Law Center, who crunched the numbers to discover the increase in unemployment for young Black women, calls this trend “baffling.”

“It’s just bananas,” she says. “Other than racism and sexism, I really don’t get it.” 

Of course, those two factors—racism and sexism—are significant ones. Tucker speculates that young Black women are faring worse than their elders as the challenges of early-career work collide with institutional and systemic issues.

When jobs are scarce, barriers to entry—like being able to take an unpaid internship or not—become even more significant.


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The type of jobs Black women in this age bracket tend to work, and how those industries have been affected by the pandemic, may also be a factor.

“Black women are facing the double whammy of racism and sexism and the triple whammy of this pandemic,” says Tucker. “They can’t break in and they’re already behind their white peers in terms of experience.” 

(By the way, they are also far less likely to receive unemployment benefits when unemployed).

“This is going to affect long-term career prospects, long-term finances, whether they can have kids,” says Tucker of the consequences of this economic downturn for young workers. “This is going to have reverberations.” 

This trajectory for young Black women echoes unemployment numbers from May, just a few months into the pandemic. Back then, unemployment for Black women as a whole ticked up, while total unemployment declined. 

Admittedly, unemployment is improving for almost every group of Americans—the number of jobless adult women went from 10.5 percent in July to 8.4 percent in August; adult Black women, from 13.5 percent to 12 percent; and white men, from 8.3 percent to 6.9 percent. 

Black women overall are now part of the economy’s upward trajectory, an encouraging sign—as long as young Black women aren’t left behind. And right now, they are.


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About

Sarah Rosenberg is an intern at Ms. Magazine. She graduated from Los Angeles Pierce College in June 2020. She holds an Associate of Arts for Transfer degree in Journalism and two Associates of Arts Degrees for Arts and Humanities, and Social and Behavioral Science, respectively. She has previously worked at Pierce College's Bull Magazine and Roundup Newspaper.