Black ExperienceNationalStacy M. Brown

Perilous Unemployment, Wage Gaps Plague Black Women

While the coronavirus pandemic has led to massive unemployment and job uncertainty for just about everyone, Black women have especially fallen victim.

A report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) in D.C. notes that gender differences stand as a critical driver in the rise of the Black unemployment rate. In short, the African American unemployment rate is fueled by the rise in jobless Black women.

The report, which doesn’t include June statistics, states that Black men’s unemployment rate decreased from 16.1 percent to 15.5 percent.

It notes that the increase in the overall African American unemployment rate was due to the uptick in the unemployment rate for Black women from 16.4 percent to 16.5 percent and a rise in the unemployment rate for younger Black workers.

“The pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated pre-existing, long-standing disparities in the labor market faced by women, especially women of color, that have been worsened by the current economic crisis,” CAP officials noted in a release.

Between February and May, women overall lost 10.9 million jobs, accounting for more than half (56 percent) of all nonfarm payroll jobs lost during the period. According to the CAP, that virtually wipes out a decade of women’s progress and job gains.

The numbers are made worse by the lack of child care, which disproportionately harms Black and Hispanic families.

The increase in caregiving has also forced many women to leave their jobs, reduce their work hours, or have difficulty finding a new job. They perform the majority of caregiving for elderly or sick family members and children whose school or child care provider is unavailable.

The experiences of women of color can provide essential insights into the current problems in the labor market and the type of recovery interventions needed to improve outcomes for workers, according to the CAP release.

Many women of color must confront and navigate the combined effects of race, gender, and ethnic bias, often reflected in lower wages, fewer promotional opportunities, inadequate workplace support, and higher unemployment rates, which is particularly relevant now.

In a separate news release, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda spotlighted how far into the year — three months — a woman must work to earn the same pay a white man received the previous year.

“The intersection of sexism and racism hurts Black women in many ways, including our paychecks,” said Marcela Howell, the organization’s founder and president. “While the average white woman may make 70 cents for every dollar a white man makes, Black women earn only 62 cents for every dollar a white man makes doing the same job. This means that Black women’s Equal Pay Day is really eight months later — August 13, 2020.

“That pay disparity is further compounded by the fact that Black women and other women of color are also heavily impacted by the growing COVID-19 crisis,” Howell said. “Black women’s disproportionate employment in low-wage service and minimum or sub-minimum wage jobs, most of which lack benefits like paid sick leave, contributes to the disproportionate harm caused by the virus. Even as Congress passes bills to address the needs of workers during this crisis, the programs may not relieve the problems faced by low-wage workers., many of whom are being laid off.”

Howell added that many others continue to work at considerable personal risk. Low-wage service workers — primarily women of color — are the unsung heroes of the pandemic, staffing grocery stores, takeout restaurants and other essential positions that put them at increased risk of exposure.

“We know that Black women and families, even during normal times, suffer from inadequate access to affordable, quality health care, food security challenges, and unsafe housing issues at a disproportionately higher rate,” she said. “With the pandemic, the public programs and support services Black women and families normally rely on may be harder to access.

“As we strive to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus crisis, it is critical that we also address workplace discrimination and work to close the pay gap,” Howell said.

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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