U.S. Jobs Boom Led by Minority Women

 

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer October 23, 2019
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​For the first time, most working-age (25 to 54 years old) labor market entrants in the United States are nonwhite, a trend driven by newly employed minority women, according to Department of Labor (DOL) data.

Nearly 9 in 10 of the 5.2 million people in the U.S. who entered the labor market since the end of 2016 are nonwhite, according to the DOL. Employment rates for Hispanic women jumped by 2.2 percentage points between May 2007 and May 2019, the most of any prime-age working group, while the employment rate for black women increased by 1.6 percentage points. Coupled with the retirements of white Baby Boomers, the surge is reshaping U.S. workforce demographics.

Economists point to the exceptionally tight labor market as the main cause for the minority hiring boom. "In a stronger labor market, employers have to look beyond their usual hiring pool, and that tends to help traditionally disadvantaged groups, like people of color," said Nick Bunker, Washington, D.C.-based economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab.

Julia Pollak, a labor market economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter in Santa Monica, Calif., said that to fill vacancies amid 50-year-low unemployment rates, "employers are widening their talent pools by reducing skills requirements for new hires, expanding worker training programs, and offering more attractive working conditions, such as more flexible schedules and work-from-home opportunities."

Pollak said that on ZipRecruiter, the share of all job postings requiring a bachelor's degree or higher has steadily fallen between 2016 and 2019, while the share of postings stating that no prior experience is required has steadily risen.

She also pointed to data showing that the industries where minorities are overrepresented relative to their share of the population have experienced strong growth.

For example, since 2016, employment of home health aides and personal care aides has grown much faster than average. "While black workers make up 12.3 percent of the total employed population, they account for 26.1 percent of employment in home health care services and 28.3 percent in nursing care facilities, and these jobs are also overwhelmingly held by women," Pollak said.

"Employment in the warehousing and storage industry has grown 50 percent since 2015, with many of those jobs going to minorities and a rising share of them going to women," she added.

There are also longer-term factors in play, such as demographic changes, cultural attitudes and education attainment.

"The population has become less white over the decades, so that will increase the share of hires that are people of color," Bunker said. "Changing gender norms have contributed to more Hispanic women looking for work outside the home, as well."

Reversal of Fortune?

Slowing job growth has given rise to concerns that an economic recession may be imminent, which might negatively affect the recent gains in employment among minority women.

"An economic downturn might reverse the trend, as workers of color tend to get laid off first when a recession hits," Bunker said. "These gains could end up being quite fragile, and we might not see significant employment gains for this group of workers until the labor market has strengthened again for quite some time."

Pollak said that employers tend to raise skill requirements and become more discriminatory during a recession, which can hurt job seekers with less education and experience.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Avoiding Adverse Impact in Employment Practices]

"Some of the recent labor market gains experienced by minorities are cyclical and will be reversed in a downturn," she said. "But others are the result of long-term demographic and technological changes, and will, therefore, prove longer-lasting. For example, the DOL projects that home health aide will be the fastest-growing occupation over the next decade, largely due to population aging."

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