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Workers’ Wages and Black Women Lose Out in February Jobs Report

Emily Crockett

The United States added an impressive 295,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent. Other factors show that the economy still isn't working for many Americans after the recession.

The United States added an impressive 295,000 jobs in February, and the unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent—the lowest it’s been since 2008, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Other factors show that the economy still isn’t working for many Americans after the recession. For instance, while women’s unemployment is at a six-year low, Black women’s unemployment level increased.

“February posted strong job gains and a decline in overall unemployment, but many women have yet to see a real recovery,” Joan Entmacher, vice president for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement.

The unemployment rate for all adult women fell from 5.1 percent in January to 4.9 percent in February. But Black women’s unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent, up from 8.7 percent in January and 8.2 percent in December.

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And while the unemployment rate fell for Latinas and single mothers, the rates for these more vulnerable populations remain relatively high, at 6.1 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Four in ten women’s job gains were in the low-wage industries of retail and hospitality, compared to just 27 percent of men’s job gains. That’s an improvement over January, when about half of women’s job gains were in these low-wage industries. It’s still a concerning trend for women’s wage equality and ability to support their families.

The drop in the overall unemployment rate isn’t necessarily a good sign. That’s because the labor force participation rate—the percentage of all adults who are employed—fell slightly. That means more people simply stopped looking for work, and no longer were counted in the official unemployment rate that measures how many people are out of a job but still looking for one.

In February, more people stopped looking for work than found a job.

The other major systemic problem is that wages are still low—barely high enough to keep up with inflation. Too many people who want full-time work are instead working part time, like Walmart worker Fatmata Jabbie. The number of involuntarily underemployed people has fallen since the recession, but it’s still historically high.

These trends aren’t accidental. They are the result of policy decisions, from a cautious Federal Reserve to lawmakers hostile to the workers’ unions that could help bargain for better pay and benefits.

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