This article originally appeared in UTSA Today.
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, UTSA Today interviewed Rogelio Sáenz, an author and professor of demography in the UTSA College for Health, Community and Policy. Sáenz’s research expertise includes addressing the grand challenges of underrepresented populations, including Latino people, Black people and other people of color.
UTSA Today connected with Sáenz and asked him about his latest project.
You recently published a public policy brief regarding the inequities in job recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. What motivated you to focus on a particular segment of the population?
In April 2020, after the first two months of significant spread of COVID-19 in the United States, nearly 25 million fewer people had a job. In June 2021, there were still 5.9 million fewer people employed, representing a 3.7% drop of workers since before COVID. I formed a great research collaboration with my colleague, Corey Sparks, associate professor of demography, as well as with Asiya Validova, a doctoral student in our department, to shed light on this important issue.
The three of us analyzed the groups in which the jobless rates remain higher—focusing on the groups that have historically suffered disparities in the workforce, including persons of color, women and immigrants.
What can you tell us about the findings of your research?
Our research findings showed that jobless rates for all groups remain higher than they were prior to the pandemic. Although there have been significant improvements in the number of individuals holding a job since the unemployment spike in April 2020, the full employment panorama shows that the number of people who are unemployed soared 59% between February 2020 and June 2021, and participation in the civilian labor force plunged by 2.1 million persons, a drop of 1.3% during this period.
All told, the nation’s unemployment rate stood at 6.2% in June 2021, compared to 3.9% in February 2020. Jobless rates continue to be highest among workers of color, women and those with lower levels of education.
What were the contributing factors in the lack of job recovery?
There are tremendous changes that have affected job recovery. For example, we have seen people, especially women, who have left the labor force due to childcare responsibilities and other related matters, while others have retired, and still others have entered the labor force. Overall, job recovery has been particularly difficult for certain groups—especially women of color with lower levels of education.
You mention that job recovery varies along gender lines. How are these lines different?
The more favorable employment situation among Latino and Black people occurred only for men, which was due in part to their rising activity in the labor market.
In contrast, women have fared much worse. As of June 2021, 5.9% fewer Latinas had a job, compared to the number of Latinas employed 16 months earlier. There were 5.7% fewer Black women in the workforce over this same time period and 5% fewer white women.
Finally, what can you tell us about the Latino population and the contributing factors for their job recovery?
Latino people born in the United States tend to fare better socioeconomically than those born outside of this country. We observe this when it comes to trends in employment over the 16-month period reviewed in the policy brief. Native-born Latinos and Latinas entered the workforce at greater rates than their immigrant counterparts. However, the gap was greatest among women. As of June 2021, there were 4.3% fewer U.S.-born women in the labor force, and 8.3% fewer foreign-born women working.