COVID-19 Recovery: Reversing Decades Of Labour Discrimination

a lineup of brown manikins stands behind one white one at a door marked 'jpbs'
معدل photo by Mawadahyahya is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
In the U.S., a Black person is twice as likely to be in this line than a White person.

Olugbenga Ajilore cautions that the national unemployment rate may not be the best measurement for planning the U.S.’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

Ajilore, a senior economist at the Center For American Progress, starts his discussion by comparing unemployment rates for Blacks and Whites during 2020. In March, the rate of unemployment for Blacks came close to matching the rate for Whites. The rest of the time, there are at least two unemployed Black people for one White person, a pattern that has been evident as long as racialized data has been collected. It also shows up regardless of age, gender, education level or occupation.

The consistent pattern is evidence of structural discrimination. Ajilore argues that recovery from COVID-19 provides an opportunity to change the structures that allow racial discrimination in employment to persist. For example, he recommends actions to improve the employment opportunities for Black people, including changes to policies in public housing. Currently, a person released from prison is not allowed to live in public housing, either alone or with others. Ajilore argues that employment chances improve for released prisoners when they have a stable place to live and other supports.1

Ajilore’s article will also help anyone who has wondered what the term “exogenous shock” means. COVID-19 (the exogenous shock) is not an economic event, yet it has had a significant impact on unemployment rates. This is evident March 2020, when the difference in the proportion of unemployed Black and White people changed from the prevailing two Black people for one White person to 1.23 Black people for one white person.

Finally, for those who doubt the value of collecting racialized data, this is a good example of why we should do it and how it could help. The data may depressing, but if we don’t collect it, it’s harder to demonstrate that discrimination is present across the labour market.

Ajilore’s article appears at the Center For American Progress: The Persistent Black-White Unemployment Gap Is Built Into the Labor Market


  1. While Ajilore has focussed on discrimination in the labour market, it should also be noted that steady income is a foundation for housing stability. The consistently higher unemployment rate for Black people, which is a feature of the labour market, creates a barrier to accessing housing, increases the risk of homelessness and is a pillar of discrimination in the housing market.