BTC-racial-barriers-to-jobs-persist-in-nc-April 2022

North Carolina’s hot labor market still harder for Black job seekers

April’s jobs figures show North Carolina remains on a hot streak, but the picture isn’t the same for every North Carolina worker.

Nearly 75,000 jobs have been added since the start of the year, which puts NC more than 105,000 jobs above pre-pandemic levels. That’s a remarkable track record, but barriers to employment remain, particularly for workers of color and outside of our state’s major cities. North Carolina has climbed out of the jobs crater created during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic faster than the nation overall. NC managed to recover all the jobs lost by October of last year, while the United States as a whole still needs to add over a million jobs to get back to where we were before the pandemic.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that elevated barriers to employment continue to face many workers of color. The unemployment rate for Black North Carolinians in the first quarter of this year was still above 6 percent, more than double the rate for white workers. This disparity is rooted in longstanding issues like lack of access to training for fast-growing occupations, affordable child care, reliable transportation, and stable housing. COVID-19 was a shock on top of these deeper structural issues, which meant a larger impact on employment and a longer road to recovery for many communities of color.

Some of the racial disparities in employment are rooted in where the job growth is coming from. Professional and business services account for more than half of the net job growth since the start of the pandemic, with more than 60,000 jobs added since February of 2020. Generations of underinvestment in education have made it far harder for many workers of color to gain the training and experience needed to access these kinds of white-collar jobs that pay the best wages. On the other hand, there are still almost 25,000 fewer government jobs, which are often some of the most accessible opportunities for workers of color, and leisure and hospitality employment is similarly off from pre-pandemic levels.

All this adds up to a complicated picture that shouldn’t be reduced to a single image. Federal aid and stimulus buoyed our economy during the worst of the pandemic, but a lot of work remains to get us to a place where everyone can access quality jobs that can support a family.