They disproportionately work in industries, and for employers, that have been ordered closed.
We know the coronavirus doesn’t discriminate by race or ethnicity. We also know the harm it imposes on American society will be unequal in the extreme. It so happens that lower-income minorities have been on a pretty good run economically in recent years. The consensus among economists is that this trend is set to end.
A decade ago this month, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the black jobless rate hit a 27-year high of 16.8%. By May 2018 it had plummeted to 5.9%, the lowest level since the government started keeping track in 1972. Moreover, the gap between black and white unemployment shrank to less than 3 percentage points for the first time on record. Among Hispanics, both poverty and unemployment reached all-time lows in the past three years, and pay rose for all groups, with low-wage workers leading the way. The unemployment rate last month was 3.5%, and there were far more jobs available than job seekers. But if this is the economic record that President Trump intended to ride to re-election, he’ll need a backup plan.
The health scare has already claimed millions of jobs, and infections aren’t expected to crest in the U.S. until May or June. Some people will be able to work from home for now, but the low-income minorities who benefited most from our decadelong economic expansion aren’t likely to fall into that category. Many of them lack a college degree, which correlates strongly with employment prospects. And many of them work for employers who have been ordered by the government to cease operations.
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