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A Deeper Look into May’s Employment Victories

Four hours before their release to the public, President Trump tweeted about his excitement regarding May’s jobs numbers published this morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Presidents receive a preview of jobs numbers the night before they are released but are not supposed to comment on the statistics before 8:30 am when BLS officially releases them. And for good reason: discussing jobs numbers before they are publicly released puts the market at risk.

May 2018 saw the addition of 223,000 jobs to the economy, 33,000 more than anticipated. The overall unemployment rate dropped slightly to 3.8% from 3.9% in April. This is the second time the unemployment rate has been this low since 1969. As always, though, we wanted to delve deeper into these numbers to figure out how women and specifically women of color fared this past month.

Beginning with the jobs added to the economy, more than 3 in 4 jobs added – or 78.5 percent –  went to women, the highest share of any month in 2018 so far. Overall, four of the biggest industries which saw job growth were construction, manufacturing, retail trade, and transportation & warehousing. Women were hired for 8 percent of the jobs added in construction last month, 83 percent in manufacturing, 48 percent in retail, and 21 percent of transportation & warehousing jobs. Women gained the most new jobs in professional & business services (23,000) and education & health services (41,000).

The unemployment rate was not just historic for the overall workforce. The rate for Black workers, at 5.9 percent, is the lowest recorded. The unemployment rate for Black women in May came in at 4.7 percent, a record low as well. With that said, Black women are still unemployed at almost 1.5 times – and Black men almost twice – the rate of white women and men. This is good news, but we’re not celebrating yet. While the unemployment rate for Black Americans has fallen steadily for several years, we can do more to ensure that Black women have access to quality jobs.

White and Black men and women all saw a decrease in unemployment rate this month. And although the unemployment rate for Latino men edged down to 3.9 percent, the rate for Latina women ticked up to 5.1 percent from 4.7 percent in April. This month brought successes to many, but it is important to recognize that Latinas did not have the same experience before we call the findings of May’s report a complete victory.

Overall, May’s numbers display some economic success. We should celebrate our added jobs and historically low unemployment rates. With that said, it is critical that we contextualize all these victories and break down the exciting statistics in an intersectional way. Yes, of course it is fantastic that Black workers are seeing their lowest unemployment rate on record. But that doesn’t mean the work is over. In fact, our job is far from done: this historically low unemployment rate is still over 1.5 times that of white workers. While the gap between Black women and white men appears to be closing, any gap at all is too large to be ignored. And we can’t view all of these numbers as economic victories without recognizing that the unemployment rate for Latinas grew this past month.

Today’s jobs numbers certainly continue the trend towards economic progress. But we at NWLC will hold off celebrations and continue to fight and advocate for women of color until the benefits reach everyone.