While the coronavirus pandemic brought on economic duress for many Americans, racial inequalities in the United States left black communities with higher rates of unemployment than white communities, a new study showed. According to the study, a “long history of racial exclusion, discrimination, and inequality have resulted in fewer earners in their families, lower incomes, and lower liquid wealth than white workers.”
Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) study, which focused specifically on black workers, showed that historic and current social and economic injustices made the economic effects of the pandemic harder on black workers and their families. The study divided workers into three main groups: those who lost their jobs and faced economic insecurity, those classified as essential workers and faced health insecurities and those who continued to work-from-home, according to the report. The research revealed that while few black workers were part of the work-from-home group, the majority of black workers suffered a record number of job losses from March to May and were disproportionately represented among the essential workers.
“Not only are black workers losing their jobs at an incredible pace, those who aren’t losing their jobs are more likely to be found on the front lines of the economy in essential jobs,” the study said.
The report revealed that black workers were “disproportionately represented in employment in grocery, convenience, and drug stores, public transit, trucking, warehouse, and postal service, health care, and child care and social services.”
“While, in the near-term, this protects them from job loss, it exposes them to greater likelihood of contracting COVID-19 while performing their jobs,” the study said.
While the black unemployment rate “has been persistently and significantly higher than the white unemployment rate,” the current black unemployment rate reported in April was 16.7 percent compared to the white unemployment rate, which was 14.2 percent, according to the study.
The “devastating effects of COVID-19 on the economic and physical well-being of black Americans were entirely predictable given persistent economic and health disparities,” EPI explained in a report. According to the study, some underlying economic factors that black workers and their families face include significant wage gaps, benefits gaps, lower household incomes and higher poverty rates, less cash reserves, Higher shares of households headed by single parents, and lower shares of households with multiple earners. While some underlying health factors include pre-existing health conditions, a lack of health insurance, population density and multi-generational living circumstances.
“These same factors will ultimately prolong the effects of the pandemic on black workers and their families long after the immediate threat has passed,” the study said.
While the study concluded that the “disparate racial impact of COVID-19” should be of no surprise because of “the ongoing legacy of racism that continues to produce unequal outcomes affecting nearly every aspect of life in the United States,” it blames a fallacy of race-neutral policy, which was further exposed by COVID-19.
“If we are to protect African Americans from suffering under the same needlessly heavy burden during the next economic or public health crisis that they are suffering under now, we must work diligently to address long-standing underlying racial disparities in economic and health outcomes,” the study said.