African Americans are more likely to be unemployed, and are among the longest-term unemployed, and yet are less likely to be receiving unemployment benefits than any other ethnic group in the country, according to a series of studies released this week by the Urban Institute.
“This means many low-wage, unemployed Black workers are likely suffering more economic hardship than their white counterparts,” said Margaret Simms, co-author of one of the reports, and the institute’s director of the Low-Income Working Families project.
Using data from 2010 as an example, the report noted that the unemployment rate for Blacks was 11.2 percent, compared to 6.9 percent for whites, 9.4 percent for Latinos and 8.6 percent for other ethnic groups.
During the same period, only 23.8 percent of unemployed African Americans received unemployment insurance. That compared to 33.2 percent for whites, 29.2 percent for Latinos and 29.7 for other ethnic groups.
A series of four related reports, released online, examined the impact of race on unemployment, the collection of benefits — and detailed a number of reasons for the gap.
“African Americans are at a confluence of factors leading to low [unemployment insurance] recipiency,” Simms said. They include “low levels of education, concentration in occupations or industries where workers are less likely to be covered, and short tenure on jobs.”
Minorities were more likely than their white peers to be unemployed. In 2010, 65 percent of unemployed Americans were Black, Latino, young (ages 16–24), single mothers, high school dropouts, limited English proficient, or born abroad.
Overall, it’s more difficult for those disadvantaged workers to collect benefits, found one report.
Only 10 to 36 percent of unemployed workers with labor market disadvantages collected benefits in 2010, found one report. That compared to 69 percent of non-disadvantaged workers.
One of the primary reasons is the way the unemployment insurance program is structured.
According to one of the reports, it’s more difficult for workers who work only for short periods to get benefits. That figure includes seasonal and other short-term workers, a group that includes high numbers of Blacks. Lower education levels were also a factor, the report found, noting that many less educated unemployed people were unaware that they were eligible for unemployment insurance or unable to complete the application process. Simms also linked lower educational attainment to shorter periods of employment.
A related factor was the fact that many African Americans have been unemployed for longer periods than members of other ethnic groups — taking them beyond the period where they are eligible to receive benefits.
But, it found that even among groups that were similarly educated and had similar work histories, African Americans tended to lack unemployment benefits at a disproportionately higher rate.
“Some of the difference may be due to workers’ choices or preferences, but some may reflect discrimination in hiring and the reported reasons for separation from those jobs, both of which can affect eligibility,” noted one report.
The report concludes by suggesting that the federal government take a more active role in overseeing how unemployment benefits, which are distributed and administered by the states, are disbursed. As part of that reform, one of the reports suggested allowing benefits for part-time workers or employees with sporadic work histories, as well as providing more information about unemployment insurance programs to the public, and investigate rates at which employers contest unemployment claims to see if there is racial gap there.
The findings are especially troubling for the Black community, Simms noted, because “African Americans likely have fewer assets to fall back on.”