Data reveals the impact that Covid-19 had on minority groups in America

By Isabella Kane

March 18, 2022

The Covid-19 pandemic has left its mark on society as cases quickly spread at the beginning of 2020.

The unexpected spike in cases left the United States with no option other than to unforeseeably close down all non-essential operations, forcing millions of Americans across the nation to retreat to their homes for a large fraction of 2020.

One of the largest impacts the pandemic had was on the labour force, and millions of citizens were put out of work as a result of business failures throughout the two waves that hit the United States in 2020.

Unemployment Rate, U.S., 2016-2020


The United States endured a significant spike in unemployment rates when COVID-19 hit in 2020. Figures provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) display that the United States has bared witness to the rate of unemployment in the decades prior to COVID-19. However, unemployment rates appeared to be decreasing between 2016 and 2019 according to yearly data reports from BLS.

Those that have been most affected by unemployment through the years consist mainly of minority groups, such as Black and African American citizens, those of Asian descent, and Hispanics.

In a 2016 BLS report, 8.4% of the Black and African American community suffered from unemployment—the largest sum of unemployed U.S. citizens. Those with a Hispanic background followed second, with 5.8% of citizens out of work. The Asian community was the third most affected, reaching 3.6%. The population of White Americans reached roughly 4.3%.

The rate of unemployment appeared to steadily decrease in the following years. For example, the 2018 BLS report two years after the 2016 data was published revealed that the unemployment rate among Black and African American citizens dropped to 6.1%, the rate of unemployed Hispanics decreased to 2.7%, and Asian-Americans to 3%. Rates among members of minority groups and White Americans alike appear to slowly reduce. The declining rates persisted into 2019.

The unemployment rates increased remarkably in 2020—when COVID-19 intruded upon the U.S. labour market. The most affected minority groups remained consistent with reports of unemployment from previous years—the Black and African American population rose to 11.4% of unemployment, the Hispanic population amounted to 10.4%, and the Asian population to 8.7%.

These figures stand to raise further questions. Which factors contribute most to the disparity in employment? Why did the minority groups in the U.S. suffer significantly more so from COVID-19 than White Americans in 2020?

A 2020 report by the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) concluded that the unemployment rate for Black and African Americans has been near twice the rate for Whites. Other contributing factors included were those with access to a college education and language barriers.

In a CNBC article, author Jennifer Liu disclosed research that 51% of Black and African Americans and 53% of Hispanics worked unessential jobs that couldn’t be carried on from home or essential jobs in the field of priority infrastructure. In comparison, only 41% of White workers were classified in the same category.

The reason minority groups seem to have been most affected by the lockdown measures imposed during the pandemic is based on job status. People in minority groups also tend to belong to lower-income households, meaning that their jobs were likely considered non-essential during the pandemic.

Due to language barriers, differences in education, or institutional barriers to entry, many people from minority groups in America find it difficult to see employment in higher-income job settings.

During the pandemic, people working low-wage jobs that could easily be replaced or suspended in the case of an emergency such as the pandemic lost their source of employment which made it challenging to financially recover. Maintaining the same standard of living during the harshest months of the pandemic reflected greatly in the rate of unemployment throughout the pandemic’s first year.

12-Month Poverty Rate, U.S., 2020


The Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University tracked poverty rates each month throughout 2020 in the United States.  

As the labour market fluctuated in response to unemployment, poverty rates also spiked throughout the course of 2020.

The 2020 U.S. poverty rate reflects similarly to the unemployment rate, aligning where minority groups remain to be those most affected. Black and African American citizens hold the highest rates of poverty, and White Americans the least.

In January 2020, the poverty rate appeared stable and fitting with data collected from several years prior. Black and African Americans remained the largest minority group affected by poverty, with the Hispanic and Asian communities following after.

In March 2020, poverty rates appeared to be decreasing, especially among the Black/African American and Hispanic communities. The poverty rate among Black and African Americans diminished by 6.2% between February 2020 and March 2020, similarly to the Hispanic community which saw a 7.6% drop in poverty.

Minority groups across the United States suffered greatly from poverty as the closure of businesses and rising unemployment rates—especially people of color, such as the Black/African American community and Hispanics.

How have the conditions of unemployment throughout 2020 affected poverty in the most vulnerable minority groups?

Minority groups have already been disadvantaged before the pandemic, as they are marginalised and often discriminated against in the labour sector. When the pandemic came, this only further deepened the class divide as people in lower-income jobs were often fired and those in higher-income jobs had the opportunity to work from home.

A large division of individuals belonging to minority groups had often worked in non-essential jobs during the pandemic, meaning that lockdown measures forced them to leave their jobs.

As there were no other options for them, they were left unemployed and relying on the limited aid provided by the American government. Additionally, COVID-19 was a disease that impacted many, and without the proper insurance or funds to cover healthcare, people in the unemployed minority groups were most affected by the severity and health repercussions of the virus.

The pandemic has brought about structural changes such as the dependence on machines and technology to replace people in specific job areas, leaving these people with fewer chances of returning to the workforce in the post-pandemic labour market.

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