The Booming U.S. Recovery Is Leaving Some Communities Completely Behind

Bloomberg is tracking the economic recovery in minority communities across the country

The U.S. economy is on a multi-speed track as minorities in some cities find themselves left behind by the overall boom in hiring, according to a Bloomberg analysis of about a dozen metro areas.

The recovery is also patchy geographically. For Asian Americans in San Francisco and Los Angeles, low tourism and high housing costs are weighing on their rebound, while Latinos in Phoenix have benefited from a strong construction sector.

The varying speeds matter because the Federal Reserve and the White House vowed to look beyond aggregate figures to more broad-based data before adjusting their monetary and fiscal policies. Fed Chair Jerome Powell says he will base interest rate decisions in part on improvement in metrics that historically take longer to recover from downturns—like national Black unemployment, wage growth for low-income workers and labor force participation for those without college degrees.

The Biden administration has stated that a more inclusive economy is key to a recovery. The Department of Labor is looking closely at data like the economic impact of the pandemic on labor force participation of Black women, who experienced the biggest drop between February and December 2020. In a February report, chief economist Janelle Jones wrote “No economic recovery can be complete if some communities are left behind.”

What Local Labor Conditions Can Tell Us

To better understand how the recovery is unfolding beneath the national level, Bloomberg calculated local unemployment rates for racial and ethnic groups across 15 metro areas.

A Growing Divide

By the fall, the Covid-19 pandemic had widened the non-seasonally adjusted White-vs.-Black unemployment gap nationally by 2.9 percentage points and the White-vs.-Hispanic gap by 2.3 points, while unemployment among Asians is back below the national average.

A Significant Difference

On a more local level, average jobless rates from January to March ranged from 15.5% for Black people in the Los Angeles metro area to 3.5% among White people in the Atlanta metro area. Margins of error for local rates can be quite large, but these data still provide important insights and signals in the absence of monthly, granular unemployment figures.

Note: Bloomberg considered margins of error when deciding which local unemployment-rate trends or disparities to highlight in this story.

Where the Recovery Is Stronger

A rare bright spot can be found in the Phoenix metro area, where local Hispanic workers are in a better labor market than their peers nationally, boosted in part by hiring for customer service jobs.

Where the Recovery Is Weaker

However, unemployment remains high in many urban communities, including Houston, where Black, Hispanic and White joblessness is worse than in the country overall, weighed down by the energy sector. Asians there are facing relatively stronger labor conditions.

Compared to the Peak

As bad as the current situation is, it’s dramatically better than at the height of the pandemic crisis last spring and summer. Excluding White unemployment rates and focusing on minorities reveals double-digit unemployment surges for Hispanic people in the Las Vegas-area, Black people around Philadelphia and others.

Not Yet Back to Normal

Still, for more than half of minority groups, local unemployment rates have not fully recovered to March 2020 levels, when stay-at-home orders were first enacted, while some gaps have widened.

Bloomberg calculated the above local unemployment rates using the monthly Current Population Survey of about 60,000 households, which is sponsored jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, and will be following their progress throughout the year.

This analysis—combined with regional data such as housing prices, job listings and small business loans from the Paycheck Protection Program—shows that many minority communities are currently lagging behind. The latest metro-area vaccination rates, which tend to outpace the country as a whole, aren’t showing up in the March unemployment rates as a differentiator, but may play a bigger role in the coming months.

Double-Digit Divide

Minority communities face substantial unemployment gaps, though only wider disparities tend to be meaningful in this analysis because of sample-size limitations of local data

Asian

Black

Hispanic

White

Unemployment rate (NSA), Jan.–March 2021 average

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16%

Overall national

unemployment

Dallas

Philadelphia

Los Angeles

Chicago

Houston

New York

Joblessness among Black and Hispanic New Yorkers is at least 4 points higher than a year ago

Washington, D.C.

Atlanta

San Antonio

Miami

Las Vegas

Albuquerque

San Francisco

Riverside, CA

Phoenix

Asian

Black

Hispanic

White

Unemployment rate (NSA), Jan.–March 2021 average

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16%

Overall national

unemployment

Dallas

Philadelphia

Los Angeles

Chicago

Houston

New York

Joblessness among Black and Hispanic New Yorkers is at least 4 points higher than a year ago

Washington, D.C.

Atlanta

San Antonio

Miami

Las Vegas

Albuquerque

San Francisco

Riverside, CA

Phoenix

Asian

Black

Hispanic

White

Unemployment rate (NSA), Jan.–March 2021 average

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16%

Overall national

unemployment

Dallas

Philadelphia

Los Angeles

Chicago

Houston

New York

Joblessness among Black and Hispanic New Yorkers is at least 4 points higher than a year ago

Washington, D.C.

Atlanta

San Antonio

Miami

Las Vegas

Albuquerque

San Francisco

Riverside, CA

Phoenix

Asian

Black

Hispanic

White

Unemployment rate (NSA),

Jan.–March 2021 average

2

4

6

8

10

12

14

16%

Overall national

unemployment

Dallas

Philadelphia

Los Angeles

Chicago

Houston

New York

Joblessness among Black and Hispanic New Yorkers is at least 4 points higher than a year ago

Washington, D.C.

Atlanta

San Antonio

Miami

Las Vegas

Albuquerque

San Francisco

Riverside, CA

Phoenix

Note: Metro areas are identified by their principal city. Some smaller gaps between groups may not be statistically significant. Race and ethnicity are separate categories in the CPS so there may be overlaps between Hispanic respondents and those in the other groups, which should be taken into account when comparing between groups in a single metro area.

Because the Current Population Survey was not designed for such granular insights, Bloomberg considers margins of error when looking at trends or disparities between communities. The Los Angeles metro area is one of only two (Houston being the other) that had large enough sample sizes to calculate local unemployment rates for the major demographic groups tracked by the Census Bureau, and provides a good illustration of how margins of error are used to identify comparisons that are statistically significant.

Finding Meaning in the Data

Margins of error reveal which local jobless rates are statistically different from one another, in this case looking at Los Angeles

6.5%

Overall national

unemployment

10.4%

L.A. metro area

unemployment

15.5%

Black

±4.1 p.p.

11.4%

Hispanic

±1.5 p.p.

9.6%

White

±1.1 p.p.

9.3%

Asian

±2.4 p.p.

6.5%

Overall national

unemployment

10.4%

L.A. metro area

unemployment

15.5%

Black

±4.1 p.p.

11.4%

Hispanic

±1.5 p.p.

9.6%

White

±1.1 p.p.

9.3%

Asian

±2.4 p.p.

6.5%

Overall national

unemployment

10.4%

L.A. metro area

unemployment

15.5%

±4.1 p.p.

Black

11.4%

Hispanic

±1.5 p.p.

9.6%

White

±1.1 p.p.

9.3%

Asian

±2.4 p.p.

Note: Unemployment rates are non-seasonally adjusted and represent the Jan.-March 2021 average.

Explaining the widening gaps between these groups is difficult. But it primarily comes down to local labor conditions and fluctuations in industries that typically hire minorities, which may vary from city to city. Bloomberg will report on these trends and what’s driving them throughout the rest of the year.

A “for lease” sign in a predominantly- Asian area of San Gabriel, outside of Los Angeles.

A “for lease” sign in a predominantly- Asian area of San Gabriel, outside of Los Angeles.

A “for lease” sign in a predominantly- Asian area of San Gabriel, outside of Los Angeles.

A “for lease” sign in a predominantly- Asian area of San Gabriel, outside of Los Angeles.

A “for lease” sign in a predominantly- Asian area of San Gabriel, outside of Los Angeles.

Photographer: Jessica Pons/Bloomberg

Los Angeles

PPP Loan Data per 100K Residents

White-area jobs supported: 38.7K

Asian: 36.2K

Hispanic: 19.5K

Black: 15.9K

$278M

Amount in majority-Asian zipcodes

Average Monthly Credit/Debit Card Spending per Cardholder

$1,062

Asian

$1,438

White

$906

Hispanic

$1,033 Black

43%

Change in spending per Asian cardholder since April 2020 vs. 38% for White users

PPP Loan Data per 100K Residents

White-area jobs

supported: 38.7K

Asian: 36.2K

Hispanic:

19.5K

Black:

15.9K

$278M

Amount in majority-Asian zipcodes

Average Monthly Credit/Debit Card Spending per Cardholder

$1,062

Asian

$1,438

White

$906

Hispanic

$1,033 Black

43%

Change in spending per Asian cardholder since April 2020 vs. 38% for White users

Leisure and hospitality are important industries for Los Angeles. At the start of the pandemic, they lost almost half their workers in the state in just a two-month period, said H.D. Palmer, spokesperson for the California finance department.

“With the various public health-driven stay-at-home orders, cautious consumers and Covid-19 cases, people of color were hit hardest by the pandemic as they represent a larger share of the workforce in the service sectors where there is more in-person interaction as part of doing business,” Palmer said.

Asian Americans in the Los Angeles region are experiencing unemployment at twice the rate seen one year ago, according to estimates calculated by Bloomberg.

Around 350 miles north in the San Francisco area, Asian American communities are also far from pre-pandemic employment.

“A lot of people are living in crowded, multi-generational housing in the Asian immigrant community in the Bay Area, just because the cost of housing is so expensive,” said Sophia Cheng, organizing director for the Chinese Progressive Association, a San Francisco-based advocacy group. “People who are being called back to work are having to make a really hard decision about their health and safety.”

A food vendor in a western Phoenix neighborhood that’s more than 70% Hispanic.

A food vendor in a western Phoenix neighborhood that’s more than 70% Hispanic.

A food vendor in a western Phoenix neighborhood that’s more than 70% Hispanic.

A food vendor in a western Phoenix neighborhood that’s more than 70% Hispanic.

A food vendor in a western Phoenix neighborhood that’s more than 70% Hispanic.

Photographer: Courtney Pedroza/Bloomberg

Phoenix

Typical Home Value

White areas: $372K

Hispanic: $230K

20.2%

Annual change in majority-Hispanic zipcodes, more than anywhere else being tracked

PPP Loan Data per 100K Residents

White-area jobs supported: 23.9K

Hispanic: 19.3K

$164M

Amount in majority-Hispanic zipcodes

Typical Home Value

White areas: $372K

Hispanic: $230K

20.2%

Annual change in majority- Hispanic zipcodes, more than anywhere else being tracked

PPP Loan Data per 100K Residents

White-area jobs

supported: 23.9K

Hispanic: 19.3K

$164M

Amount in majority- Hispanic zipcodes

In Arizona, the recovery of Hispanic neighborhoods in the Phoenix metro region is relatively strong—driven in part by a robust construction industry and an earlier easing of pandemic restrictions that allowed for rehiring in the services sector. The quarterly unemployment rate as of March was 5.9%, according to Bloomberg’s calculations. Even taking into account the margin of error, that’s lower than the non-seasonally adjusted national Hispanic unemployment rate of 8.9% for that period, and statistically indistinguishable from the U.S. jobless rate overall at 6.5%.

Throughout most of the country, the housing market has been one of the biggest bright spots in the pandemic—fueled by the Fed’s near-zero rate policy and the desire for more space to work from home.

As part of that trend, construction was the second-fastest growing industry in Phoenix in March, said Lee McPheters, research professor and director at the Economic Outlook Center at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

“The construction trades in Phoenix are particularly dependent on Hispanic workers, who account for over 50% of carpet, cement and painting workers, and over 70% of drywall workers,” McPheters said.

Educational infrastructure was also part of the solid bounce back, said Denny Barney, president and chief executive officer of PHX East Valley Partnership.

“You have one of the largest community college districts in the country in Maricopa county,” said Barney. Having a bridge between high school and traditional college allows for more engagement of vulnerable populations and has better prepared the region’s workforce for the post-pandemic economy, he said.

Houses being built in a predominantly Black area of Lithonia, outside of Atlanta, where house prices have been rising by double digits.

Houses being built in a predominantly Black area of Lithonia, outside of Atlanta, where house prices have been rising by double digits.

Houses being built in a predominantly Black area of Lithonia, outside of Atlanta, where house prices have been rising by double digits.

Houses being built in a predominantly Black area of Lithonia, outside of Atlanta, where house prices have been rising by double digits.

Houses being built in a predominantly Black area of Lithonia, outside of Atlanta, where house prices have been rising by double digits.

Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg

Atlanta

Total New Businesses per 100K Residents Since March 2020

in Black areas: 2.0K

Metro-wide: 1.5K

38.9

Average new businesses in majority-Black zipcodes in March 2021

Typical Home Value

White areas: $310K

Black: $206K

12.6%

Annual change in majority-Black zipcodes vs. 8.8% for White areas

Total New Businesses

per 100K Residents Since March 2020

in Black areas: 2.0K

Metro-wide: 1.5K

38.9

Average new businesses in majority-Black zipcodes in March 2021

Typical Home Value

White areas: $310K

Black: $206K

12.6%

Annual change in majority-Black zipcodes vs. 8.8% for White areas

Georgia’s partial reopening from a Covid-19 lockdown last April, blasted in many circles at the time, may in hindsight have wound up economically benefiting Atlanta and its large African American population, said Jessica Stewart, a professor in Emory University’s African American Studies department.

“It feels like Atlanta never really closed,” Stewart said.

Black people in the Atlanta metropolitan area had a 7.4% unemployment rate in the first quarter, according to Bloomberg estimates, compared with around 10% for the group nationwide.

There was a concerted effort locally to buy from and support Black-owned businesses in the area during the pandemic, said Stewart, who belongs to a business membership club popular with many of Atlanta’s Black entrepreneurs and high-tech workers.

And the city’s outsize number of large corporations, headed by Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola Co. and United Parcel Service, also tend to have a progressive attitude toward enlisting minority suppliers, said Stacey Key, chief executive of the Georgia Minority Supplier Development Council.

Still, both women cautioned that the strong Georgia economy and improving jobless rate shadow some of the ills plaguing the community. The real estate boom has exacerbated the region’s affordable housing crunch, encouraging housing speculators to buy up properties and push minorities into the suburbs, Stewart said.

A closed storefront in a majority-Black neighborhood south of downtown Houston.

A closed storefront in a majority-Black neighborhood south of downtown Houston.

A closed storefront in a majority-Black neighborhood south of downtown Houston.

A closed storefront in a majority-Black neighborhood south of downtown Houston.

A closed storefront in a majority-Black neighborhood south of downtown Houston.

Photographer: Callaghan O’Hare/Bloomberg

Houston

Business Re-Openings per 100K Residents

Metro-wide since

March 2020: 672.0

158.2

Black

372.4

Hispanic

0.8

Average business reopening in majority-Black zipcodes in March 2021, lower than nearly anywhere else being tracked

Majority-Hispanic Occupations

Share of all jobs: 16.1%

Share of job postings: 9.1%

520K

Number of Hispanics employed in these occupations in 2020

Business Re-Openings per 100K Residents

Metro-wide since

March 2020: 672.0

158.2 Black

372.4

Hispanic

0.8

Average business reopening in majority-Black zipcodes in March 2021, lower than nearly anywhere else being tracked

Majority-Hispanic Occupations

Share of all jobs: 16.1%

Share of job postings: 9.1%

520K

Number of Hispanics employed in these occupations in 2020

Houston’s economy was hit not only by Covid but also by an energy crisis. The city, known as the oil capital of the world, depends heavily on the industry for all sorts of work, from offshore rigs to white-collar office jobs.

The recovery is particularly weak in the Black and Hispanic communities, with double-digit joblessness. Two in five adults in the Houston metro area say their family has struggled to pay for basic expenses during the pandemic, according to data collected by the Census’ Household Pulse Survey in late March.

The sharp decline in oil prices last year contributed to a spike in unemployment across groups, with 1.7 million jobless claims evenly split among White, Hispanic and Black workers, said Parker Harvey, principal economist at Gulf Coast Workforce Solutions.

Despite oil prices doubling since last November, Houston hasn’t seen any real meaningful hiring. “It performed, in a sense, worse than everything else because it didn’t even start to recover last year,” Harvey said.

Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives LLC and a former Fed economist, said that while recent economic data have shown signs of improvement nationally, there are going to be frictions to reaching a full recovery.

“We’re all a little impatient to see the reopening impact, but it’s going to take months for this to play out,” she said. “We’re rebooting the economy.”

Corrects per capita PPP and Yelp data featured in individual metro area graphics.