Life in Portland for Black and white people is overwhelmingly different. In the coming weeks, WW will explore these contrasting realities—the inequities that have molded the Black experience in this city and state. This week, we look at employment.

The COVID-19 pandemic—and the resulting business shutdown—drove unemployment rates through the roof across Oregon. The Portlanders in the worst position to withstand the wave of layoffs? Black people.

According to a 2018 five-year census report, Black Portlanders had the highest unemployment rate of any racial demographic, at 11%. By comparison, the unemployment rate of white people stood at 4.9%.

The Urban League of Portland released a 2015 report displaying data that also showed Black Oregonians were filing for unemployment at double the rate of white Oregonians. One of the reasons, it wrote, was discriminatory hiring practices.

"Labor market policies need to focus on closing the unemployment gaps between whites and African Americans," the report says, "rather than simply lowering unemployment."

The pain of COVID-19 layoffs has also been unequally distributed nationwide.
Nationally, Black people are overrepresented in high unemployment rates, even as jobless claims are slowing down overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment peaked in April at 16.7 per 1,000 for Black people and 14.2 per 1,000 for whites. While white people have seen major improvement, Black people have barely seen any change from April to June.