By Raksha Kopparam, Senior Research Associate
California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute
California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute is tracking trends in Black Women’s experience in the labor force. The following is the California Black Women’s Workers Jobs Report, which tracks the employment situation of Black Women and their counterparts of other races. This work is created for the California Black Women’s Think Tank.
After three years of an unstable economy due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state of California is now experiencing strong growth in the labor market. In the first quarter of 2023, employers added almost 138,000 nonfarm payroll jobs to the economy. Yet while economists forecast that the economy is tipping away from a recession, one group of workers has been left behind despite the growth: Black women.
Employment to Population ratio
In the years following the Great Recession, Black women in California experienced significant growth in their labor force participation rate compared to women of other races. Investments in manufacturing, retail, and transportation and utilities industries helped bring more Black women into the labor market. In the case of the Coronavirus pandemic, Black women across the nation were hit especially hard by employment losses, and critical services such as child or family care are preventing thousands of women from re-entering the workforce. As a result, the first quarter of 2023 shows that Black women have the lowest employment-to-population ratio of women of all races, approximately 12% points below the state-wide level.
Labor force participation rate
To tackle rising inflation, the Federal Reserve Board has implemented 10 interest rate hikes since March 2022, and today, interest rates are the highest they’ve been in 13 years at 5.1%. While the Fed’s actions have cooled down inflation, we see a slowdown in the labor force growth, especially among Black women. This is due to two factors: access to caregiving and structural discrimination in the labor market.
As workers begin returning to jobs lost during the pandemic, the burden of caregiving responsibilities tends to fall onto the shoulders of Black women. Women across the nation are five to eight times more likely to have their employment impacted by caregiving responsibilities, and in the state of California, where approximately 80% of Black women are primary breadwinners and over 70% are single mothers, Black women are forced out of the labor market, hence the lowest labor force participation rate of all groups since the end of the coronavirus recession.
The result of higher interest rates is a slower economy that particularly impacts Black women in the labor force. Employment is the first sector affected when businesses are hit with increasing interest rates. Businesses begin to hire less and less and Black women in the labor market face structural racism and implicit biases that result in fewer job offers. Vulnerable groups are sensitive to changes in the labor market, and so a tightening labor market means that Black women face the brunt of any unemployment hikes.
Share of Black women workers by Industry
California’s economy has experienced strong job growth since the start of 2023. In the first quarter, almost 138,000 net jobs were added to the economy, even accounting for severe job losses in the technology industry. However, growth in the labor market was not felt equally by all groups of workers. Black women, who have the highest share of workers in the government, financial, education, and health and information industries, experienced gains and losses in their respective industries. While Black women benefitted from new jobs in the public sector and the education and health services industries, they experienced a contraction in the information and financial sector. Jobs in these two industries provide higher wages and long-term growth within employees’ careers, and so net losses in such industries indicate that Black women have fewer opportunities for sustainable and high-quality careers.
In the first quarter of 2023, while the California economy is moving towards pre-pandemic trends, Black women are being left behind in the labor market. The federal government’s actions to diminish skyrocketing inflation are having dire consequences on Black women, and poor policies to provide caregiving services to vulnerable communities are keeping scores of Black women from entering the labor force. For Black women who are already in the labor force, the job opportunities that provide growth, stable incomes, and proper skills matching are limited and diminishing. To help Black women re-enter the workforce, state and federal policymakers need to address inflation and caregiving in a manner that does not hurt vulnerable communities. As of 2021, the state of California was the home of 856,000 Black women. Providing avenues to help them achieve strong, sustainable, and well-matched jobs can not only lift Black women but can have cascading benefits on the entire state economy.
These trends showcase that Black Women in California are losing ground economically as they are trying to provide for their families. According to the 2023 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California, Black Women hold the lowest percentage of Bachelors and Graduate/Professional Degrees compared to their counterparts. Black Women make .55 cents to every dollar a White man makes in California for full-time work. Nearly seven out of 10 households are headed by single Black mothers. They spend nearly 50% on housing and 30% on childcare. In the Collective’s Quality of Life survey conducted in May 2023, 88% of respondents stated that ensuring that Black women earn equal pay for equal work compared to men and women of other backgrounds was extremely important to them.
The required action to change the trajectory of the economic status of Black Women in California must be intentional and multifaceted. Therefore, the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute is creating programming to uplift Black Women's economic floor with two key initiatives – The Black Women’s Workers Initiative and the Black Women’s Professional Leadership Program.
Historically, Black Women have secured roles in the public sector, which helped catapult them into the middle class. As changes in recruitment strategies and budget allocations changed, Black Women weren't turning to public sector jobs as a career path.
The Black Women's Workers Initiative is a pathway program to secure employment opportunities for Black Women in the public sector. This program recruits Black Women including those from vulnerable communities and former foster youth. It will prepare participants for careers to work in local municipals in roles represented by labor unions. The program will be five sessions of soft skill training along with job preparation coaching and wrap-around service integration. This initiative has two pathways – Ready to Work and Pathway to Work. The Collective will partner with labor unions and municipals to secure funding for the training program and staffing. Community and faith-based organizations serve as partners to ensure participants receive the wrap-around support, they need to qualify for public sector employment.
The Black Women’s Professional Leadership Program is a professional development certificate program designed for Black Women who are ready to lead or new to leadership. This is a leadership development program focused on providing Black Women with the tools they need to flourish in their professional lives. Black Women only represent 3% of executive leadership in the top 100 companies headquartered in California. Although, more than 360,000 Black Women work full or part-time jobs, many find it difficult to move up the corporate ladder. Without mentors and coaches, Black Women are shut out of leadership roles even if they have the skill sets and desire to reach higher professional levels.
This 10-week Saturday course is designed for California Black Women to provide them with a wide range of interactive and culturally relevant learning sessions that will enhance their leadership actions. Students will build the necessary leadership skills as they learn to plan for leadership, the process of leadership, and the practice of leadership. They will leave with an authentic leadership style that includes new ways of approaching leadership, confidence, and fresh perspectives to add more value to their company/organization as well as their professional action plan.
The course objective is to strengthen their leadership skills and learn the process and practice of leadership to help them expand their career goals. This includes conducting a self-assessment that will help you build a professional action plan with a roadmap to success. The Collective’s learning model is Plan, Process, and Practice™ which is curated with three modules – Plan to Lead, Process of Leadership, and the Practice of Leadership. It ends with a capstone project to present a personal leadership model.
The Collective will focus on these initiatives and advocate for issues important to Black Women. There is also an opportunity to support and create policies that will impact California’s Black Women and Girls. The California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute will work with policymakers and advocates to develop priority actions and opportunities to eliminate barriers that Black Women face when trying to uplift their economic circumstances.
For more information about the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute and the California Black Women’s Think Tank, go to www.cablackwomenscollective.org.