Minority Women Are Winning the Jobs Race in a Record Economic Expansion

New York —-The United States economy on Monday hit a milestone, reaching its longest expansion on record. Just a decade ago, the nation was mired in a severe recession that had erased trillions of dollars in wealth and left millions of people out of work.

While the recovery has delivered uneven gains, Hispanic women have emerged as the biggest job market winners in an economy that has now grown for 121 straight months, assuming data released in coming months confirms continued growth.

Employment rates for Hispanic women between 25 and 54, prime working years, have jumped by 2.2 percentage points since mid-2007, the eve of the Great Recession. That’s the most of any prime-age working group. Black women came in second, adding 1.6 percentage points.

While employment rates have risen for minority women, they are far from the expansion’s biggest winners by other measures. The richest 1 percent of earners — who are heavily white and male — have notched outsize earnings throughout the expansion and recovery. The top 1 percent also received nearly 17 percent of the total first-year benefit from the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, according to the Tax Policy Center.

“We have an issue with wage inequality, income inequality and wealth inequality where most of the growth is going to the top,” said Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s program on race, ethnicity and the economy. “Those people are less likely to be women, and much less likely to be women of color.”

But the economic and social trends that have long kept minority women from making job and wage gains appear to be shifting. Hispanic women have historically worked less than any other demographic, earned fewer degrees than white and black women, and had among the highest fertility rates. That is changing: Hispanic women have posted a major fertility decline over the past decade and they have steadily raised college attainment.

The recent job gains show that prolonged economic growth, combined with those social changes, has the power to lift long-marginalized minorities. The pattern also offers hopeful news for employers: As these women pour into jobs, they are providing a new source of labor in an economy where workers are increasingly scarce.

The expansion record won’t be official until growth data is reported over the coming months, but America has clearly experienced a long period of job market healing. Unemployment is near its lowest level in 50 years and prime-age employment rates have bounced back after falling off sharply during the 2007-2009 recession and its aftermath.

That progress has allowed the black work force to begin recovering from a painful recession. For Hispanic women, the recent gains are part of a more long-running trend toward higher employment, but one that has recently accelerated.

Starting around 2012 and picking up around 2014, Hispanic women between 25 and 34 began pouring into jobs, contributing substantially to the group’s overall progress. They now work at their highest rates on record. Hispanic women concentrate strongly in service jobs including health care, which have grown throughout the expansion.

“It does seem like there’s something structural happening,” said Ernie Tedeschi, policy economist at Evercore ISI.

Education is a big part of the story. While the share of whites and blacks age 18 to 24 who were enrolled in college actually dropped slightly between 2010 and 2016, the share of Hispanic women going for a degree jumped to 41 percent from 36 percent.

That’s an improvement from a low level — 48.9 percent of white women were enrolled, by way of comparison — but it has major job market implications. Employment rates climb steadily with educational attainment.

Mariah Celestine, 25, is a student at Columbia Business School and the first person in her family to pursue a master’s degree. She has a firsthand view of the cultural shift. Going back to school and leaving her salary at Bank of America was a difficult choice, because she was financially helping an aunt in New York and her extended family in Puerto Rico.