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Jobless rate for Black Americans declines to 5.2% to end 2023 on a positive note

A networking and hiring event for professionals of color in Minneapolis, MN. 

Michael Siluk | Getty Images

The unemployment rate for Black Americans fell significantly in December, closing out 2023 on a positive note, according to data released Friday by the Department of Labor.

Black Americans, the group with the highest jobless percentage in the country, saw their unemployment rate dip to 5.2% last month from 5.8% in November. Still, that’s higher than the overall unemployment rate, which held at 3.7% last month, as well as the 3.5% jobless rate for white Americans.

When accounting for gender, the unemployment rate for Black men aged 20 and older fell to 4.6%, a big decline from the 6.3% rate in November. Black women’s jobless rate remained unchanged at 4.8% in December.

Experts said that while the December number is a good sign, the monthly data could be too volatile to form a trend yet.

“We would caution against reading too much into large swings in monthly data, but in general, demographic groups, including Black Americans, that had traditionally been slower to experience the benefits of a tight labor market have realized stronger employment and wage gains in the current cycle,” Andrew Patterson, senior international economist at Vanguard, told CNBC. 

The Current Population Survey is “very noisy,” especially when looking at smaller populations, according to Julia Pollak, ZipRecruiter’s chief economist. She noted that the unemployment rate for Black Americans in 2023 ranged between 4.7% in April and 6.0% in June. 

Among Black workers, the labor force participation rate inched lower to 63.4% from 63.7% in the previous month.

Black Americans were hit particularly hard by the business shutdowns in the depths of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the unemployment rate for Black workers peaking at 16.8% in 2020. The overall unemployment rate hit a high of 14.7% in April 2020.

More progress needs to be made for Black workers as they still lag every other demographic group in the U.S.

“The unemployment rate among Black Americans staged a significant drop in December, but remains above the lower level seen last year,” Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick said. “Still, it remains at historically low levels and still higher than the jobless rate overall and for Whites, Asians and Hispanics.”

For Hispanic Americans, the unemployment rate rose to 5% in December from 4.6% in November.

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