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Young Black Workers in UK Bear Brunt of COVID-19 Pandemic With 40% Unemployment Rate

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Young Black Britons have been bearing the brunt of the economic fall-out during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data recorded by official UK unemployment statistics.

The findings, which were conducted by the Guardian newspaper, report that between October and December 2020, 41.6% of Black young people aged between 16 and 24 were unemployed, which is the highest rate since the 2008 financial crisis.

Meanwhile the unemployment rate for white workers in the same age group during the last few months of 2020 stood at 12.4%, according to employment data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

While a disparity existed before the pandemic — 10.6% of young white people were unemployed compared with 25.3% of young Black people between January and March 2020 — research suggests that the gap has widened rapidly during 2020.

In response to the findings, experts have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic is exposing racial inequality in the job market, with job losses and cutbacks hitting some harder than others.

Halima Begum, the director of the UK’s race inequality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, said that the figures were “appalling” and show that without government intervention, the post-pandemic recovery process will be delayed "inevitably" for ethnic minority communities in Britain. 

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Responding to the figures, Begum said: “[They] don’t just reconfirm that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on our [young] Black and ethnic minority communities... they confirm that the government has completely abrogated its duty of care, in particular to Black British families and their children.” 

A study of health outcomes from COVID-19 in June 2020 found that Black and ethnic minorities in the UK faced a risk of dying from the disease that was between 10% and 50% higher than the risk faced by white Britons.

Prof. Yaojun Li, an expert in social mobility at the University of Manchester, says that the findings hark back to the early 1980s, another time of financial crisis which saw a recession and heavy job losses in the manufacturing sector, when a similarly wide unemployment gap emerged.

Li’s research shows that in 1982 the unemployment rate shot up to 41.8% for young Black people compared with 22.9% for their white counterparts.

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“Removing barriers to employment is a most urgent task for achieving social equality, and this calls on determined and concerted efforts from the government, employers, and the whole society,” Li told the Guardian.

The damning analysis comes less than two weeks after a government-commissioned report on racial inequality in Britain was widely criticised for downplaying institutional racism and not accounting for structural racism in the labour market.

The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ report said: “Impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.”

The commission pointed to factors such as “geography, family influence, and socioeconomic background, culture, and religion” as having more of an influence on a person’s opportunities than racism.

It pointed to improved educational success among ethnic minorities as a reason to celebrate, but noted that success had been found to a “lesser extent [in] the economy.”

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However, on April 11, some of the experts who sat on the commission spoke out saying that parts of the report had not been seen or signed off by them before publication, and they also accused Downing Street of rewriting parts of it, despite that fact it was supposed to be “independent". 

Kunle Olulode, the director of the charity Voice4Change, was part of the commission, and told the Observer that evidence was selective and didn’t tell the full story. “The report does not give enough to show its understanding of institutional or structural discrimination,” he said.

Downing Street has repeated its assertion that the report is independent.