Share of the African Americans in the US population has kept rising. They are a significant part of the civilian non institutional population and constitute a major share of the U.S. labor force. Data on the participation of African Americans in the US labor force was first collected in the year 1972. Then they were around 10% of the entire US work force. There were total 87 million people in the labor force and the African Americans 8.7 Million. Now, their number has grown to 19.6 million by 2016 or 12% of a total 159.2 million large labor force. By 2026, according to the BLS projections, the African Americans will be 12.7% of the total labor force. The size of the non-institutional American labor force by 2026 will be 169.7 million of which 21.6 million (12.7%) will be African Americans.
Civilian non institutional population is the total civilian population minus the institutional population and the Armed Forces. The size of the Black civilian non-institutional population in 1972 was 14.5 million of which 8.7 million were in the labor force. In 2016, 19.6 million African Americans were in the labor force when the size of the entire Black civilian non-institutional population was 31.9 million. As per the projections by Bureau of Labor Statistics, the African American labor force will have reached 21.6 million (12.7%) by 2026 out of a 169.7 Million large labor force. The African American civilian non-institutional population will be 36 million or 12.9% of a total 278.2 million people in US. In 2016, the American civilian non-institutional population (16 or older) was 253.5 million.
[The labor force is a subset of population that includes non-institutional people 16 and older, not in the military, working or looking for work.]
African Americans in U.S. labor Force (2016-2018)
(16 yrs & above) 2018 2017 2016 (B.L.S. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey) U.S. Civilian non-institutional population 257.8 million 255.1 mn 253.5 mn U.S. Civilian Labor Force 162.1 mn 160.3 mn 159.2 mn African American civilian non-institutional population 32.8 mn 32.2 mn 31.9 mn African American labor force 20.4 mn 20.1 mn 19.6 mn African American labor force (Men) 9.7 mn 9.5 mn 9.3 mn African American labor force (Women) 10.7 mn 10.6 mn 10.3 mn U.S. Civilian labor force participation rate 62.9% 62.9% 62.8% African American Civilian labor force participation rate 62.3% 62.3% 61.6% Civilian labor force participation rate (African American Women) 60.2% 60.3% 59.4% Civilian labor force participation rate (African American Men) 64.8% 64.6% 64.1%
Black Civilian non-institutional Population and Labor Force are Growing at a Slower Rate
While the size of the total non-institutional African American population and African American labor force has grown in the recent years, their growth rate has slowed down. This growth rate was at the highest during 1976-86. During this period the growth rate of the civilian non-institutional black population was at 2.1% whereas that of the African American workforce was at 2.8%. There were two factors behind this high growth rate during the 1976-86 period. The first reason was the entry of Black Baby Boomers into the labor force in large numbers. Participation of Black Women in meantime in the labor force also increased significantly. In the decade that followed, the growth rate declined. During the 1986-96 period, the growth rate of the Black labor force had declined to 1.8 percent. However, during the 1976-96 period, the African American labor force grew at a higher rate than the African American population.
In the next decade (1996-2006), the growth rates of both the labor force and the civilian non institutional population became the same at 1.4 percent. During the latest decades (2006-16), while the Black civilian non institutional population has grown at a faster rate, the growth of Black labor force has been slower. The Black civilian non institutional population has grown at a rate of 1.7% in this period. The black labor force’s growth rate was only 1.3%. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that Black Civilian non institutional population will grow at 1.2% but the labor force at 0.9%.
Black Women constitute a larger share of the Black Labor Force
The share of African American women in the Black labor force has kept rising with time. Since 1972, their share in the labor force rose steadily each year and grew equal to men in 1988. Both sexes constituted equal shares of the Black labor force at 50% each in 1988. Since then, their share in the Black labor force has remained higher than men. Between 1999 and 2006, the share of women in the Black labor force was at 53% or higher. In 2006, the share of women in the Black labor force was 53.1% whereas that of men was 46.9%. In 2016, the share of women was 52.6% and that of men 47.4% in the African American labor force. Women’s share was the highest at 53.4% in 2001. Since 2005, the share of men in the Black labor force has remained flat at around 47% and that of women at between 52 and 53%. This trend is expected to continue as per BLS projections. By 2026, BLS projects men to be 47% and women 53% of the Black labor force.
Declining Participation Rate of the Black Labor Force
During the early 1970s, the Black labor force participation rate was at 60 percent. From there it kept rising till 2000. In 1999 & 2000, it peaked at 65.8 percent. The period after 2000 saw a steady decline in the participation rate of the Black labor force. The heaviest drop happened in 2009. The period after the recession of 2007-2009 saw the black labor force decline to 62.4%. In 2008, the black labor force participation rate was at 63.7%. This decline has continued. In 2016, the Black labor force participation rate had declined to 61.6%. According to BLS projections this rate could decline to lower than 60% by 2026. It is true about both African American men and women.
The participation rate of Black men was at the highest in 1972 when it stood at 73.6%. However, since 1972, the participation rate of Black men had kept declining. After the recession of 2007-09, there was a heavy decline in their participation rate. Their labor force participation rate will have fallen to 61.1% by 2026. However, the labor force participation rate of the black women has followed a somewhat different trend. It used to be at its lowest point at 48.7 percent in 1972. After that, it kept rising for nearly three decades and touched its peak in 1999 when it reached 63.9 Percent. following that the labor force participation rate of Black women has kept declining steadily. According to the BLS projections, this decline is going to continue. However, the decline will be slower in case of Black women than in case of Black men.
Labor Force Participation Rate of Black Men and Women
The labor force participation rate of Black women has remained higher than that of all women except for 1994. The opposite is true about the Black men. The labor force participation rate of Black women was at its highest in 1999 at 63.5% versus 60% for all the women. According to the BLS projections, the rate for Black Women as well as all women is going to decline in the 2016-26 decade. In case of the Black men however, their labor force participation rate has remained consistently lower than that of all men in USA. Moreover, as per BLS projections, these rates are expected to decline further in the next decade.
The labor force participation rate of Black women has generally remained higher than the other groups like Asian, White or Hispanic. It declined to 59.4% in 2016 and as per BLS projections is expected to decline to 58.8% by 2026. Despite this decline, the Black women will continue to have the highest participation rate of all the women groups in the labor force. Historically, the labor force participation rate of Hispanic women has been the lowest of all the women. However, their participation rate is going to increase higher than the other women except Black women in future as per the BLS projections. After having peaked in 1999, the labor force participation rate of women has kept declining since then. As per BLS projections will continue to decline in the next decade. Similarly, the labor force participation rate of Asian women has kept declining since 2000 and will continue to decline in the next decade.
The labor force participation rate of Black men has remained the lowest historically of all men. Over the past several decades the labor force participation rate of all the racial and ethnic groups has declined steadily. Participation rate of Black men was at its highest in 1972 at 73.6 percent and kept declining since then falling heavily after the recession of 2007-09. According to the projections by Bureau of Labor Statistics the current trend is going to continue in the future. Not just the Black men but the labor participation rate of white Men has also kept declining with time. Primary reason behind the decline in the labor force participation rate of all racial and ethnic groups is the ageing of the workforce. Asian men have seen their labor force participation rate rising during the last four decades. Their participation rate went above that of the white men in 2000 but fell following the 2007-09 recession. Since the peak of the late 1980s, Asian men’s labor force participation rate has not declined as much as that for the White and Black men. As per the BLS projections, the labor force participation rate for Hispanic men is going to decline less than the White men.
Black Youth, Education and Unemployment Rate
Share of the Black Youth in the labor force has been declining for last four decades. BLS projections show this pattern will continue over the coming decade. The share of people between 25 and 54 years of age in the Black labor force kept increasing till 2000 and then declined. As per the BLS Projections, their share will see a small rise in the next decade. As the Black Labor force has aged, the share of people older than 55 in the workforce has kept rising. This trend will also continue in 2016-2026 decade. The trend will last till Baby boomers have largely exited the workforce after retirement. Median age of the black labor force has also kept rising which reflects its ageing. This pattern will continue into 2016-26 period. By 2026, the Black baby boomers will have very low labor force participation rates since they would be in the 62-80 age bracket.
The Black population is also experiencing higher unemployment rate than the other groups. The unemployment rate among the Blacks has been higher than other racial and ethnic groups. For all the racial and ethnic groups the unemployment rate rose during the 2007-09 recessionary period. In 2008, the unemployment rate of African Americans was 10.1 percent whereas it was 5.2 percent for the white population. In 2010, the Black unemployment rate peaked at 16 percent and then declined to 8.4% in 2016. Moreover, the unemployment rate has been lower among the Black veterans than among the Black non-veterans. The unemployment rate among the BlackGulf War-era II veterans was 5.1 percent in 2016 compared to 9 percent in 2008. In the last two decades, the education level of the Black labor force has also increased. The highest increase has been noted in the number of Blacks with a Bachelor or higher degree. African Americans who have acquired higher education have better prospects for earning and education than the ones who have not. The median earnings of Black workers with advanced degree are nearly double than those with a high school diploma. The unemployment rate among the former is only 3.3 percent whereas that among the later is 8.6 percent.
Emily Rolen and Mitra Toossi, “Blacks in the labor force,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, February 2018. [ https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/article/blacks-in-the-labor-force.htm?view_full ]
Data tables (https://data.bls.gov/PDQWeb/ln)