With more than 200,000 jobs created in June in the US economy, Heather Long at the Washington Post takes a look at who's getting those new jobs, and for the most part it's Black, Asian, Hispanic, and immigrant workers taking advantage.
The U.S. labor market is on a gravity-defying streak. The June jobs report was a tad softer than expected, but the overall trend is so strong that recession fears are fading. Hiring remains solid across many industries, including construction, and companies are largely holding on to their workers.
There’s growing optimism that the country can avoid a downturn. One key reason this is possible is the surge of new workers. Nearly 4 million more people are employed now than just before the pandemic hit. That’s more families with steady incomes to spend, which helps explain the vigorous sales of everything from cars to gardening supplies. There has also been a big upshift in the labor force since the pandemic: Low-paying hospitality employment still hasn’t recovered, as workers have traded up to higher-paying business, health-care and warehouse work. This has brought another boost to incomes and an important mental shift as more workers who used to hop from job to job now see themselves on a steady career path.
The mistaken notion that Americans don’t want to work can now be put to rest. Nearly 81 percent of Americans ages 25 to 54 are working, the highest share since 2001. What has been particularly jaw-dropping is how resilient job gains have been since March 2022, when the Federal Reserve started aggressively hiking interest rates. Back then, Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell argued the labor market was “unhealthy.” There was a misguided belief that it would take a recession to get supply and demand for goods — and workers — back to more normal levels. But what many experts missed was how many workers of color and immigrants wanted to work and were still looking for opportunities.
Fewer White people are employed now than pre-pandemic. In contrast, over 2 million more Hispanics are employed now, over 800,000 more Asian Americans and over 750,000 more African Americans. This same trend played out just before the pandemic. Companies were also complaining then that they could not find workers, and experts were saying the nation was at “full employment.” Yet month after month, Black and Hispanic people (largely women) kept entering the labor force and getting jobs. It’s also notable that over 2 million more foreign-born people are employed now than before the pandemic. This means that more than half of the new workers have been immigrants.
If the U.S. economy ends up having a soft landing, it will largely be because immigrants and people of color have kept entering the labor force — helping to keep production going, consumption solid and wage growth (and inflation) cooling to a more sustainable level.
What’s going on is partly a result of low unemployment, what economists often dub a “tight” labor market. Black and Hispanic people often do not get hired until late in a recovery. In the past year, there has also been a strong uptick in jobs in government and health care, sectors in which women of color have historically found employment opportunities. Employers have also expanded their hiring searches, improved pay and benefits, and removed requirements for college degrees for many positions. All of this has helped expand opportunities. This past spring, for the first time, Black Americans were as likely to be employed as White Americans.
"There is sufficient demand that employers aren’t discriminating. They need workers,” economist William Spriggs told me in a conversation shortly before his death last month.
The other big shift is the increase in remote work. Working from home definitely helps single parents take better jobs than flipping burgers or ringing up checkout orders and it greatly helps to eliminate childcare costs. That means more money for working moms to help their families. It's a win-win situation and employers, now having remote work infrastructure in place because of the pandemic, are able to hire more folks and do it quickly.
It's another big reason why remote work isn't going anywhere. Yes, employers want workers back in the office, but not everyone has to be, and employers are taking advantage of that to hire good people who'd otherwise be barred by structural issues like child care, and commuting time and money costs. Take those away and suddenly you have a much larger pool of available employees to choose from. It especially helps Black women enter the workforce as a result.
It's smart all the way around, and it's a bit weird that Long doesn't mention this.