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Black workers hit particularly hard by 2020 pandemic

Staying afloat during a downward spiral

Merdies Hayes Managing Editor | 7/23/2020, midnight

In June, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits in the U.S. increased by 70,000 to 281,000, according to a Labor Department report. It attributed the initial jump to COVID-19 in citing layoffs in a number of service-oriented fields such as hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. Because many persons of color don’t have the option of working at home, they must weigh the costs of reporting to work (often via public transportation which itself poses a danger to infection) or receiving unemployment benefits while looking for work among 40 million unemployed people.

“You can’t really work from home if you’re waiting tables, cooking, taking care of folks as home aid, or health care workers who are in the hospitals right now,” said Danyelle Soloman, vice president of Race and Ethnic Policy at the Center for American Progress. They released a report indicating that only 20 percent of Black people are able to work from home, compared to 30 percent of White persons. The report also found that Black persons are typically found in low-wage jobs in the service industry and don’t receive comprehensive healthcare and other benefit packages.

“People of color were not sitting in the best economic situation to begin with, and this pandemic is only going to exacerbate that problem,” Soloman said.

Black families have, on average, significantly less in savings to help them weather a period of unemployment, and are reportedly less likely to have families with the resources to assist them. Since the pandemic hit, fewer than half of African-Americans 16 years and older have a job, according to statistics from the Department of Labor.

The next wave of the pandemic could hit one of the underpinnings of the Black middle-class: State and local government jobs. Even as other sectors recorded some gains in June, an additional 571,000 state and local government employees—many of them teachers—have lost their jobs. Black women comprise a significant amount of workers in these positions. The loss of such jobs can be particularly devastating to single-parent households because a paycheck is often the sole lifeline. Even those with a so-called “comfortable” income may have little to fall back on.