Women have made great strides in the workplace, comprising nearly half of the workforce and surpassing men in higher education achievement. Yet women still earn less income, have less wealth and face greater economic instability than their male counterparts. The economic instability men and women face is profoundly influenced by racial economic inequality. This snapshot will briefly review the socio-economic differences between men and women and highlight how those differences intersect with racial and ethnic disparities in the United States.
In 2019, 50.8% of the population were women, of which 60% were White, 18% were Latina or Hispanic, 12.9% Black, 5% Asian, and 0.7% Native American. The estimated population for women of color is expected to grow. The US Census Bureau projects that by 2060, 44.3% of women will be White, 27% Hispanic or Latina, 15.2% Black, 9.5% Asian, and 1.4% Native American.
Labor Participation & Unemployment
Over the last 50 years, there has been a steady increase in labor participation for women across the largest racial and ethnic categories. Women’s labor participation rates hit a high of almost 60% in the 2000s. In fact, as of January 2020, women accounted for the majority of the American workforce for only the second time in history – and the first in peacetime – standing at 50.04% of all payroll workers. Men have been experiencing a substantive decrease in labor participation, recently hitting a low of 66%. Since the mid-70s, Black and White men saw an 8% decline in labor participation while Latino men saw a decrease of half of that at 4%.
Conversely, Black, Latina and White women have experienced similar increases in labor force participation rates since the mid-70s, increasing about 15%. During this near 50-year period, Black women have been the leaders among women in labor force participation, with rates ranging from 53% to 66%. Both Black and White women saw the height of their labor force participation rate in 2000, with a gradual decline for both groups until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic brought a more dramatic drop. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, women and men have seen similar workforce declines. Approximately 17% of women in the sample either lost their job or were told not to work due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 15% of men. This also holds for those who took unpaid leave, with women accounting for 16% to men’s 15%. The decline in labor participation has been the reality for both men and women since post the Great Recession, only exacerbated by the pandemic.
Interestingly, labor force participation does not cleanly correspond with economic well-being, particularly when looking at labor force participation for men and women. For example, both Black men and women are generally much more economically insecure than White men and women. Yet Black men have lower labor participation rates than White men, and Black women have higher participation rates than White women. Latinos and Latinas have higher labor participation rates than White men and women, yet are economically much more similar to Blacks with lower income and lower wealth.
It is also interesting to note that gender equality in labor participation is not a sign of economic well-being. While Blacks have the lowest gap between men and women in labor force participation at 4.9% as of 2020, they are still the most economically insecure large racial group. Latinos have the largest gender labor participation gap of 20.3%, but have similar economic standing to Blacks. Asians have the second-highest gender labor participation gap of 16.3%, followed by Whites at 13.5%. Though labor participation is not a clear indicator of economic well-being, there is a correspondence between economic well-being and unemployment.
Unemployment measures the percentage of those in the labor force actively seeking work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for December of 2021, unemployment rates for the total population (age 20 and older) was 3.9%, down from 6.7% in December 2020. Although everyone is feeling the economic pressures of the pandemic, people of color are facing higher unemployment rates than White men. At the end of the fourth quarter of 2021, 3.1% of White women were unemployed, compared to 6.2% of Black women and 4.9% of Hispanic women. Comparatively, White men faced a 3% unemployment rate, while the unemployment rate was 7% for Black men and 4.2% for Hispanic men. Disaggregated data for Asian men and women is unavailable, but the Asian unemployment rate is 3.8%. With the limited information we have, Whites were the only group where men have equal unemployment rates with women in their racial group. In contrast, Blacks were the only group where men had higher unemployment rates than women in their racial group.