The Unemployment Gap Between Black and White New Yorkers Is Widening

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Widening Racial Divide: Black Unemployment in NYC Hits Century-High, Exacerbating Inequality

The gap between Black and white unemployment rates in New York City has reached its widest point in this century, surpassing even the stark disparity observed during the Great Recession, according to a new report released by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. In the first three months of 2023, the unemployment rate for Black New Yorkers soared to 12.2 percent, the highest among all racial groups, while the white unemployment rate plunged to a record low of 1.3 percent, a figure not seen since 2000. These stark figures stand in contrast to the national trend, where the Black unemployment rate currently sits at 5.4 percent and the white unemployment rate at 3.2 percent.

Key Takeaways:

  • Record-breaking Unemployment Gap: The gap between Black and white unemployment rates in NYC is the widest it has been this century, exceeding even the levels experienced during the Great Recession. This signifies a deep and concerning trend of racial inequality in the city’s economic recovery.
  • Disproportionate Impact of Job Losses: While both Black and white unemployment rates fell throughout 2021, Black unemployment began to rise again in the first quarter of 2022, further widening the gap. This trend is attributed to a combination of factors, including the disproportionate impact of job losses in "face-to-face" industries like retail, construction, and hospitality, which heavily impacted Latino workers, as well as the growing dominance of tech and finance sectors, which disproportionately favor white and Asian job seekers.
  • Persistent Discrimination: The report highlights the role of race-based discrimination in perpetuating this racial divide in employment. Black job seekers face persistent challenges in the hiring process and are often among the last considered for job openings.
  • Uneven Economic Recovery: The recovery from the pandemic is not uniform across the city. Majority-Black neighborhoods have been significantly affected, with limited access to opportunities and resources that could foster economic growth. This disparity is further exacerbated by policies that have not adequately focused on the hardest-hit communities.

The widening gap in unemployment rates threatens the city’s overall recovery from the pandemic, potentially deepening existing income inequality and exacerbating the challenges faced by Black New Yorkers. This issue is further compounded by the difficulty experienced by younger Black men in finding employment, particularly those with prior criminal convictions.

The report paints a grim picture of the persisting racial disparities in New York City’s labor market. While the city has witnessed a positive overall jobs growth in the post-pandemic era, the benefits haven’t been distributed equitably. Mayor Eric Adams has acknowledged this disparity and promised to take “aggressive action” to address the high Black unemployment rate, but the road to achieving a truly equitable economy remains long and requires a multi-faceted approach.

Analyzing the Trends:

The divergence between Black and white unemployment rates in NYC is not a recent phenomenon. While the gap has narrowed in recent decades, the current trajectory reveals a concerning shift. Black unemployment in the city has been consistently higher than that of white New Yorkers, but this recent widening of the gap is a stark reminder of the enduring barriers faced by Black communities in accessing employment opportunities.

Factors Contributing to the Gap:

Several interconnected factors contribute to the persistent disparity in employment rates:

  • Structural Racism: The impact of historical and ongoing systemic racism in various societal structures, including the labor market, cannot be ignored. Historical redlining policies, discriminatory hiring practices, and unequal access to education and training programs continue to disadvantage Black communities, leading to higher unemployment rates.
  • Occupational Segregation: Black workers are often concentrated in low-wage and unstable industries, such as hospitality, retail, and food service, which have been particularly vulnerable during economic downturns and the pandemic. This occupational segregation limits their opportunities for career advancement and income growth.
  • Implicit Bias: Studies have shown that implicit bias plays a role in the hiring process, even when employers are unaware of it. Implicit biases can lead to discrimination against Black candidates, even when they possess the necessary qualifications and experience.
  • Lack of Network Capital: Access to networks and social connections plays a significant role in finding jobs. Black workers often face limited access to networks, making it challenging to learn about job opportunities and navigate the hiring process.

The Way Forward:

Addressing the gaping racial divide in unemployment requires a comprehensive and targeted approach:

  • Policy Interventions: Government policies play a crucial role in creating a more equitable economy. This includes investing in job training programs, apprenticeship opportunities, and programs that target Black communities to enhance their skills and prepare them for in-demand roles.
  • Addressing Discrimination: Initiatives aimed at combating implicit bias in hiring practices need to be implemented and rigorously enforced. Companies and organizations can benefit from diversity and inclusion training programs that help to mitigate unconscious biases in hiring and promotion decisions.
  • Strengthening Social Safety Net: Improving access to affordable housing, healthcare, and childcare, particularly for low-income families, is crucial to create a more supportive environment for individuals seeking employment. By mitigating the stresses associated with daily life, these safety net programs can empower individuals to focus on finding and maintaining stable employment.
  • Community-Based Solutions: Collaboration with community organizations, nonprofits, and faith-based institutions can play a critical role in developing tailored programs and initiatives that address the specific needs of Black communities.

Individual Stories of Struggle and Resilience:

The stark statistics of unemployment are reflected in the personal stories of individuals struggling to find meaningful and sustainable employment.

Ronnie Coaxum, a 60-year-old man laid off from his job at a midtown hotel after 36 years of service, reflects the hardships faced by those who lost their jobs due to pandemic-related closures. His experience underscores the ongoing struggle to find new opportunities in a competitive job market.

The experience of Raliek Mitchiner, a 22-year-old young man with a minor conviction, exemplifies the additional barriers faced by individuals with criminal records. Despite his skills and willingness to work, his past conviction has become a hurdle in securing employment.

Zsanay Anderson, a 19-year-old case manager who lost her job earlier this year, highlights the challenges faced by young people entering the workforce. Her experience demonstrates the need for support programs and resources that can help equip young individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to navigate the job market successfully.


The widening gap in unemployment rates between Black and white New Yorkers presents a serious challenge to the city’s recovery and reinforces the urgency of tackling the persistent issue of racial inequality. Implementing effective policies, addressing systemic discrimination, and fostering community-based solutions are essential steps towards creating a truly equitable and inclusive economy for all New Yorkers.

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Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts
Megan Roberts is a career development specialist and writer. She offers valuable insights and advice on job searching, career progression, and professional skills. Megan's articles are aimed at helping individuals navigate the job market and achieve their career goals.