Young black workers have been disproportionately hit hard during the pandemic, according to the Guardian analysis, with more than 40% unemployed – three times worse than white workers of the same age.
Forty years after the Brixton riots, which spread across the UK in a recession in which black people lost their jobs in disproportionate numbers, experts warn that the coronavirus has exposed deep-rooted inequalities that still exist in the labor market.
The unemployment rate for black youth was the same in the last quarter of 2020 as it was in the early 1980s, during the riots.
Between October and December 2020, 41.6% of blacks aged 16 to 24 were unemployed – the highest rate since the last financial crisis, Guardian analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) data reveals . Unemployment among white workers of the same age was 12.4%.
Before the pandemic, between January and March 2020, 10.6% of white youth were unemployed compared to 25.3% of black youth. Nine months later, the unemployment rate for black youth had climbed 64.4% against 17% for their white counterparts, according to ONS figures.
The data comes less than two weeks after the release of the government’s widely ridiculed racial disparity report which sparked a backlash from critics who accused it of downplaying racism in the UK.
The study said the pay gap between ethnic minority workers and white workers was at its lowest level in nearly a decade, at 2.3%, and that over the past 50 Several ethnic minority groups had made exceptional progress in the UK for years – a goal critics have supported. failed to recognize institutional and structural racism in the UK labor market.
Black youth suffered the brunt of the economic crisis of the pandemic in the same way they did in the early 1980s, early 1990s and after the financial crash, said Professor Yaojun Li, of the University of Manchester.
As then, there was a high risk of “hyper-cyclical unemployment” for black youth, which would raise unemployment rates much more and stay longer for ethnic minorities than for whites, he said. -he says.
“Removing barriers to employment is a most urgent task to achieve social equality, and it requires determined and concerted efforts by government, employers and society as a whole,” said Li, a expert in social mobility and employment.
Experts fear a return to the large employment inequality faced by black youth in the 1980s, when the unemployment rate for black youth doubled in a short time. In 1981, the year of the Brixton riots, 17.2% of white youth were unemployed, compared to 18.7% of black youth, according to analysis from Li’s General Household Survey. But in 1982, the rate climbed to 41.8% for black youth against 22.9% for their white counterparts.
The ONS said the data was weighted against official 2018 population projections, contained estimates of the number of young people aged 16 to 24 in the workforce, and was not seasonally adjusted, while noting that demographic breakdowns reduced sample sizes.
Sarah Arnold, senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said young workers from ethnic minorities were already disproportionately likely to have less secure jobs before the pandemic, such as zero-hour or fixed-term contracts, or cash employment with little or no contractual security.
“These types of jobs have been less protected by programs like time off, and it is likely that this has contributed to a much faster rise in unemployment among these groups compared to young white workers and the population as a whole.” Arnold said.
“For this reason, much more comprehensive employment and income protection regimes are needed, such as recent proposals by the New Economics Foundation to reform sickness benefits and universal credit into a minimum income guarantee, in part of a set guaranteeing everyone access to a living income. ”
Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said she was “absolutely appalled” by the numbers. “They don’t just reconfirm that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on our [young] black and ethnic minority communities. They confirm that the government has completely repealed its duty of care, especially towards black British families and their children, ”she said.
The government urgently needs to recognize the major “job fragility” in ethnic minority communities and take concrete steps to address the problem, she added.
“These data leave no doubt that without government intervention, the post-Covid recovery process for our black and ethnic minority communities will inevitably be delayed,” she said. “The government must examine this data, understand the dire realities they represent for our ethnic minority communities, and take whatever steps are necessary to equitably level society as the country reopens.”
Youth unemployment figures are considerably higher than those for all ages. The unemployment rate for black workers aged 16 and over was 7.6% from October to December 2020, and for white workers the figure was 4.5%.
A government spokesperson said: “Before the pandemic, we had made solid progress in raising the employment rate to an all-time high for ethnic minorities, thereby helping to narrow the unemployment gap, and we remain committed. to these efforts.
“Our employment plan plays an important role in helping young people from all walks of life find new jobs, whether it is creating more than 150,000 jobs through the Kickstart program… or recruiting 13,500 new work coaches additional. “