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The American Workforce: A Snapshot of Race, Ethnicity and Gender

In this series of interactive charts, SHRM does a deep dive into the racial and gender makeup of today's U.S. workforce, analyzing who is currently working, where they work and what they earn.


The past 50 years: The rise of women, the decline of men in the workforce

Since 1972, the percentage of women in the labor force has risen while the percentage of men steadily declined. Among males, the gap between the percentage of Black men and white men in the workforce has tightened in the past few years (see chart below). Black women, meanwhile, have outpaced white women in the labor force historically. Economic recessions cause steeper drops in labor participation among Black workers, including those seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Post pandemic, most returned to workforce—not white males

While Black men and Black women saw the largest exodus from the workforce during the peak of the pandemic, both groups have rebound over the past two years to match or exceed their prepandemic labor force participation rates. Meanwhile, white men are the one group that has not returned to the workforce in the same numbers.

Black workers are unemployed the most—and the longest

Overall, unemployment has improved since the depths of the pandemic, when the unemployment rate peaked at 13 percent. But in 2022, Black men still had the highest rates of unemployment, followed by Black women. Black men and women also spend more time unemployed—an average of 26.2 weeks and 25.1 weeks, respectively—compared to white men and white women, who average only 22.7 weeks and 19.8 weeks on unemployment, respectively.

By age group, the disparities grow even more stark. While 13.8 percent of young Black men (ages 16-24) are unemployed, only 7.7 percent of white men of the same age are out of work. Meanwhile, young Black women (ages 16-24) are unemployed at more than twice the rate of white women of the same age, at 13.1 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively.


Black employees are underrepresented in higher-wage, fast-growth jobs

In 2022, Black men were disproportionately more likely to work in production, transportation and material-moving occupations, while white men were more likely to work in management, professional or related occupations, including business and finance roles. Black women were more likely to work in service occupations compared to their white counterparts, especially in healthcare support occupations.

At the highest level, the number of Black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies hit a record in 2022, but that only accounted for six Black CEOs, barely making up 1 percent of that group. If the CEO makeup of the Fortune 500 reflected the current U.S. demographics, there would be about 65 Black CEOs (13.5 percent) leading America's largest public companies.

To look at it another way, SHRM mapped occupational data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics by whether Black workers and white workers over-indexed or under-indexed in employment, based on Black workers making up an average of 12.6 percent of the overall workforce while white workers make up 77 percent. Bubbles are sized proportionate to the total number of workers employed in each occupation. Colors correspond to the occupation categories seen above. (See if you can find chief executives and HR workers among the dark blue management bubbles.)


Black and Hispanic employees on low end of earnings scale

The pay gap between Black and white workers has existed since the federal government began reporting earnings by race in the 1970s—and the gender pay gap only adds to the disparity. As noted above, Black workers tend to be underrepresented in industries with higher-wage jobs. While the types of jobs and hours worked among each race/gender are worth examining, the overall median weekly earnings in 2022 paint a stark picture of the barriers left to overcome in pursuit of pay equity. 

Source for all charts: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey. Note: People whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race. 


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