Women of color, for whom economic recovery is a more difficult task, continue to be hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic downturn.
Andreas Dean has to reevaluate her next career steps. The nursing assistant had to leave her job when the pandemic-induced school closures left her with no child care and no options. Now, she’s been unemployed for 10 months and trying to plan for the future.
“I don’t think it will be hard to get a job [after the pandemic],” said Dean, of Glen Carbon, Ill. “But COVID has really made me rethink my career. COVID has scared me as far as job security.”
Like Dean, many women, often the primary or default caregiver in families, have been pushed out of the workforce during the pandemic. Also, like Dean, many Black and Latina women work in service industries that have been disproportionately impacted.
New job numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show staggering and disproportionate job losses in December that exclusively hit women and specifically targeted Black and Latina workers.
In December, the economy lost a net total of 140,000 jobs, an indication of a faltering US recovery. But the numbers also show a deep gender and racial gap. While men gained 16,000 jobs, women—specifically women of color—accounted for almost all of the jobs lost in December. According to the numbers analyzed by CNN, Black and Hispanic women lost jobs in December while white women gained.
Although white women were among those who lost jobs, they also made significant gains while Black and Latina women lost more jobs than they gained. White women have the lowest unemployment rate at 5.7% compared to 8.4% and 9.1% for Black and Latina women, respectively.
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In the 10 months since the beginning of the pandemic, job losses have been more pronounced for low-income workers and workers in the service industry where Black and Latina women are disproportionately represented. Research by economists Brad Hershbein and Harry Holzer shows that within the lowest-paid quarter of Americans, employment has declined nearly 12% since Feb. 2020, but the highest-paid quarter has seen a decline of about 3%.
“Such differences in … employment loss between the highest- and lowest-wage workers are almost certainly unprecedented among US recessions over the past 100-plus years,” Hershbein and Holzer concluded in a new research paper.
Researchers note that as industries adapt to mitigate exposure to COVID-19 many service jobs won’t return even after the economy begins its recovery.
The short-term job losses mean that millions of Americans will continue to have trouble making ends meet, and the existing inequalities mean an economic crisis for families of color. For instance, currently, 31% of Black American households with children said they were on the verge of missing a rent or mortgage payment. Similar data shows that 26% of Latino families and 26% of mixed-race families were struggling to pay their rent. Comparatively, only about 12% of white households are struggling to pay rent.
But problems also arise in the longer term with major gaps in generational wealth, leaving no safety net for many women of color.
Wealth, defined as the difference left after subtracting debts from household assets, serves as an economic cushion during recessions, protecting people from falling into poverty. Black and Hispanic Americans pass down less money, on average, to later generations due to historical and structural racism that has made it nearly impossible for them to accumulate wealth. In fact, in 2016, white families typically had ten times the net worth of Black families, according to Brookings.
“A close examination of wealth in the US finds evidence of staggering racial disparities. At $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150) in 2016,” wrote Brookings researchers in a summary of their findings on generational wealth. “Gaps in wealth between Black and white households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. The Black-white wealth gap reflects a society that has not and does not afford equality of opportunity to all its citizens.”
Generational wealth plays a big role in the wealth gap in total. In fact, the impact of generational wealth accounts for more of the racial gap than any other socioeconomic or demographic causes, according to Brookings. The economic effects of the pandemic stand to worsen the ever widening gap for women of color.