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Spike in black unemployment 'heartbreaking': Federal Reserve's Powell

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Declaring there is "no place" for racism in American society, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday said it is "heartbreaking" to see the spike in unemployment for African Americans so soon after it reached a historic low.

[WASHINGTON] Declaring there is "no place" for racism in American society, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday said it is "heartbreaking" to see the spike in unemployment for African Americans so soon after it reached a historic low.

The shutdowns imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 have inflicted damage nationwide, but the hardest-hit are those in low-income service fields who are least able to bear the pain, Mr Powell told reporters.

After falling to its lowest on record in February, 5.8 per cent, black unemployment spiked to 16.7 per cent in April. And despite an unexpected decline in the national jobless rate in May, for black workers it actually ticked up a notch.

For Hispanic workers, unemployment surged to 18.9 per cent but dipped in May to 17.6 per cent.

"Unemployment is going up more for Hispanics, more for African Americans, and women have borne an extraordinary and notable share of the burden beyond their percentage in the workforce," while just two months ago "we had, effectively the first tight labor market in a quarter century," Mr Powell said.

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"It's heartbreaking. And you know, we want to get it back. We really want to get it back."

As he spoke, demonstrations continued outside the White House - a few blocks away from the Fed's headquarters - as part of nationwide upheaval over the latest death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police.

Mr Powell promised the Fed will "use our tools to support maximum employment."

"But obviously, that's something that's going to require an all of society, all of government response."

While the central bank chief, who resolutely steers clear of politics, declined to comment on the causes for inequality in the US economy, he strayed from his usual script to comment on the recent "tragic events that have again put a spotlight on the pain of racial injustice in this country."

"I speak for my colleagues throughout the Federal Reserve system when I say that there is no place at the Federal Reserve for racism, and there should be no place for it in our society," he said.

"Everyone deserves the opportunity to participate fully in our society and in our economy."

AFP

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