Analyzing Unemployment Rates Across Race/Ethnicity, Gender, and Educational Attainment

This blog post serves as the last of in a series of three posts that explore a dataset from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) that includes unemployment rate data. The previous posts have looked at overall trends by educational attainment level and trends by race/ethnicity and gender separately. What we have seen is that increasing educational attainment improves unemployment rates for all adults in the dataespecially persons of color, and that increased credentials also help close gaps between race/ethnicity groups within educational attainment levels. When reviewing trends by gender alone, there are small differences between male and female adults (25 years of age and older) in the data, even when stratifying the data by educational attainment. The monthly BLS data also showed that higher levels of educational attainment serve somewhat as a “recession-proofing” mechanism, as the effects of recessions are less profound for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher than for adults included in the other categories of educational attainment.

Exploring Unemployment Data Across a Combination of Demographic Variables

 While the previous posts showed data broken out by specific demographic variables, this post analyzes how increased levels of educational attainment may differentially affect the unemployment rates across and within groups by combining race/ethnicity and gender variables. The visualizations below use data published from the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS). While the previous analysis showed data spanning almost 30 years, the unemployment data disaggregated by demographic variables and educational attainment levels has only been reported since 2015. These data are reported as annual averages by the BLS, so the following analysis will include six years of trend data. Because the data presented are unemployment rates, the better-performing groups have lower unemployment rates. 

The first visualization below shows the six-year (2015-2020) average unemployment rate for the following combination of variables (moving left-to-right across the rows): Race/Ethnicity + Educational Attainment + Gender. Within each row, the color of the “lollipop” is based on which gender (women or men) had the worse (i.e, higher) unemployment rate within that Race/Ethnicity + Educational Attainment combination. For example, in the top row, women who were Black or African American with Less Than a High School Diploma had a slightly higher average unemployment rate (13.67%) than Black or African American men with Less Than a High School Diploma (13.61%). If you move down to the last row in the Black or African American group, you see that men in this race/ethnicity group with a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher had an average unemployment rate (4.39%) that was worse than Black or African American women at the same level of educational attainment (4.01%).

By way of observation…

  • Where gender gaps exist in the visualization below, the gaps are generally greater at the lower levels of educational attainment (Less Than High School Diploma and High School Graduate, No College) within the various race/ethnicity groups, and they are more narrow as educational attainment increases.
  • Within each race/ethnicity group, the gaps between men and women are the smallest at the Bachelor’s Degree or Higher level, as Black men are higher than Black women (4.39% vs 4.01%); Hispanic or Latino women are higher than Hispanic men (4.38% vs 4.17%); and, White women are higher than White men (3.08% vs 2.77%). 
  • Within each race/ethnicity group, there is a steady, if not dramatic, slope of improvement from lowest to highest educational attainment level. This can be seen by the length of the lines getting shorter as you move down the rows.  
  • Across race/ethnicity groups and within educational attainment levels, White adults typically have lower unemployment rates than Hispanic or Latino adults, who typically have lower unemployment rates than Black or African American adults.
  • As we have seen in other data, increasing educational attainment narrows the gaps between race/ethnicity groups. While the extremes at the Less Than High School Diploma level represent an 8-percentage point gap (13.67% for Black or African American women vs 6.03% for Hispanic or Latino women), the extremes at the Bachelor’s Degree or Higher range from 4.39% for Black or African American men to 2.77% for White men, which is an average gap of 1.62 percentage points.
  • Even when controlling for educational attainment levels, gaps in unemployment remain. For example, White women with an Associate’s Degree have an average unemployment rate (3.92%) that is lower than Black or African American women (4.01%) or Hispanic or Latino women (4.38%) with a Bachelor’s Degree or Higher.
NOTESThere are three additional interactive visualizations that allow for further exploration of these data that can be accessed by clicking on the tabs at the top of the visualization window. If you are unable to read the labels in the visualization below, we recommend clicking the “Full Screen” button on the lower right of the visualization window to enlarge the information. Hovering over each point will provide a tooltip with additional information.

So What?

As we have shown across three blog posts, higher levels of educational attainment promote better unemployment outcomes for all adults 25 and older, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, or the combination of both. This was especially true during the 2020 pandemic, as higher levels of educational attainment served as a “recession-proofing” mechanism, where the rise in unemployment from 2019 to 2020 was lower for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher than the corresponding groups with an associate’s degree or less.

As higher education seeks to better understand and prepare to combat the continuing fallout of Covid-19, the unemployment rate data speaks to a growing concern for higher education leaders: the dramatic difference between the lowest two levels of educational attainment — Less Than High School Diploma and High School Graduate, No College. With some K-12 educational leaders observing double-digit increases in the high school drop-out rate over the past two years, the trickle-up effects of lower high school completion rates will squeeze a higher education pipeline that has already been damaged by the 2020 pandemic, where two-year colleges have seen dramatic decreases in student enrollment. For the health of colleges and universities moving forward, these trends at various stages within the enrollment pipeline should be of great concern. This is a topic that may be explored further in this blog as the data from K-12 schools becomes more readily available at scale in the months to come.

One Comment

  1. This is extremely important information. It allows us to acknowledge the gaps in employment, which also by default acknowledges the gaps in economic status. The conversations between universities and school districts should begin here and continue throughout the educational careers of our students. The mindset toward education must shift from the negative experiences that may be obstacles that limit high school completion and higher education attainment, to include the positive outcomes that allow students to plan for adulthood using education as a resource rather than a requirement.

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