Introduction

Unemployment and lack of economic opportunity have always been present in the United States, but the recent pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and brought these issues to the forefront. Both issues have a significant impact on individuals, families, communities, and the nation as a whole. However, unemployment and economic opportunity are unequally distributed and affect minority groups more heavily than others. For example, because of U.S. policies, many African Americans live in low-income communities which do not provide them with the opportunity to advance themselves economically. Teaching about unemployment and lack of economic opportunity is important because students should be given the opportunity to learn about issues that plague their communities so that they can ideally advocate for change.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about unemployment and lack of economic opportunity. This topic is relevant now more than ever, as many low-wage minority workers and other Americans have experienced job loss due to the pandemic, so use the resources below to broach this topic with students!

Lesson Plans

  1. Unequal Unemployment: Teaching Tolerance provides a lesson on unequal unemployment which will have students analyze and interpret unemployment rates across different states and three racial groups, including Hispanics, African Amerians, and whites. This lesson contains objectives, essential questions, a list of materials, vocabulary terms, a suggested procedure, and an extension activity.
  2. Poverty and Unemployment – Exploring the Connections: Teaching Tolerance offers a lesson on exploring the connections between poverty and employment. From this lesson, students will discover that there are not enough living-wage jobs available for everyone and recognize the systemic factors that lead to poverty. Students will also learn the reasons poverty and unemployment disproportionately affect members of diverse racial and ethnic communities.
  3. The Unemployment Game: EconEdLink has put together an unemployment game to help students understand the unemployment rate statistic, the labor force participation statistic, and labor markets. In this economics lesson, educators will utilize a slideshow, unemployment game cards, an interactive unemployment rate, and more to make learning about unemployment more engaging for students!
  4. Lesson Summary – Unemployment: Khan Academy provides a lesson summary on unemployment which includes a lesson overview, key terms, key takeaways, key equations, common misperceptions, and discussion questions. This lesson summary is one of the resources in the site’s unemployment series, so for educators who are looking for more in-depth videos to use before introducing this particular article, there are two on the unemployment rate primer, natural, cyclical, structural, and frictional unemployment rates. Educators should note that these resources were created for AP Macroeconomics, so unlike other resources recommended on this page, they are math-based and tailored towards helping students learn the information for the exam.

Articles

  1. Most U.S. Teens Believe There is a Lack of Equal Opportunity Based on Race, Ethnicity and Gender: CNBC recently published an article explaining how most U.S. teens believe there is a lack of economic opportunity based on race, ethnicity and gender. This article discusses how teens agree the U.S. has a problem with equal economic opportunity, the solutions teens see and who they think is responsible, and what teens can do now to set themselves up for future success. For educators who are teaching in middle or high school classrooms, it would be beneficial to share this article with students because the opinions come from their peers and all the information is tailored to their age group!
  2. Unemployment, Job Losses And Covid: Inequality And Unequal Power: Forbes provides an article on the inequality and unequal power with unemployment, job losses, and Covid-19. The article talks about the rise in unemployment over the past several months, how the job prospects are not evenly distributed across industries and groups of workers, and whether or not the virus is making permanent changes to the labor market. For educators who want their students to learn about the effects of the pandemic on unemployment and labor market inequalities, this article will be very helpful!
  3. The Persistent Black-White Unemployment Gap Is Built Into the Labor Market: The Center for American Progress offers an article on the persistent black-white unemployment gap built into the labor market. The article discusses how the labor market is designed to create a black-white unemployment gap, how the Covid-19 pandemic led to a temporary unemployment gap closure, and the policies that can be created to craft an inclusive economic recovery. Educators who want to focus on racial inequality in unemployment and the impacts of Covid-19 on it should take a look!
  4. The Covid-19 Recession is the Most Unequal in Modern U.S. History: The Washington Post has published an article on how the Covid-19 recession is the most unequal in modern U.S. history. The article focuses on how the pandemic has most significantly affected low-wage minority workers, specifically hitting the service sector the hardest and impacting Black women, Black and Hispanic men, and mothers. It also discusses what is next for unemployment and possible economic recovery.
  5. How Racial and Regional Inequality Affect Economic Opportunity: Brookings offers an article on how racial and regional inequality affect economic opportunity. The article talks about how many African Americans live in low-income communities that do not provide them with the opportunity to advance themselves economically due to U.S. policies. Two maps, a Hamilton Project paper, and recent research are referenced while the author discusses the regional concentration of the African American population, economic mobility, and the connection of racial and regional inequality.

Informational Sites

  1. Guide to Unemployment: Investopedia provides a guide to unemployment. This piece offers information on what unemployment is, understanding unemployment, unemployment by state, types of unemployment, how to measure unemployment, the history of unemployment, and more.
  2. The Cost of Unemployment to the Economy: Investopedia offers an article on the cost of unemployment to the economy, describing the costs to the individual, the society, and the country.
  3. Improving Economic Opportunity in the United States: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides the testimony of Jared Bernstein, a Senior Fellow on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, before the Joint Economic Committee on improving the economic opportunity in the United States. His testimony covers opportunity barriers and their causes, how public policy can push for greater opportunity, policies that would diminish opportunity, and more related topics.

Videos and Podcasts

  1. The Deeply Unequal Economic Consequences of the Pandemic: PBS NewsHour provides an eight-minute video on the deeply unequal economic consequences of the pandemic. There is also a full transcript offered.
  2. Unemployment: PBS LearningMedia has a collection of videos on economics. In their section on unemployment, there are several videos that educators may find useful, such as how unemployment benefits are in jeopardy and how finding work proves extra difficult for some people.
  3. Unemployment And The Racial Divide: npr offers a nine-minute podcast on unemployment and the racial divide.

Conclusion

Teaching about unemployment and lack of economic opportunity may be difficult because they are sensitive topics depending on if students have personal experience with them. Educators should be sure to have a discussion with students and remind them that they can opt out of any activities that make them feel uncomfortable. On that note, educators should also tailor lessons to the needs of their students and classrooms if they are aware of any connection they may have to the topic. However, the lesson plans, articles, informational sites, and multimedia resources above should be relatively careful and thoughtful but also informative in the way these topics are explained.