The coronavirus pandemic, has already been well-documented in its detrimental effects on health in the African American community, having nearly twice the deaths from the disease than is proportionate to the population.
Recently released statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor now show that the pandemic has wiped out major employment gains and curtailed years of economic growth for Black people in America, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Black unemployment was at 5.8 percent in February before the pandemic created economic chaos nationwide. It was at its lowest rate since 1972, when the government began keeping records outlining race and employment. Since then, that number has skyrocketed to 16.8 percent in May. The nationwide overall employment rate is at 13.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It was like everything was falling into place, and now it’s all paused,” said Anthony Steward, 34, a cook who lives in Milwaukee told the WSJ. He was working a job paying $15 per hour at Fiserv Forum where the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks play. He was serving high-end guest box customers when he was suddenly laid off once the league’s season was suspended. Soon after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and is now unsure if he will be able to return to his job. “It will be a struggle to provide for your family, especially in the Black community.”
Black people were on fragile ground prior to the pandemic, with less job security and overall wealth than white individuals, according to the WSJ. A Brookings Institution report from February showed a widening racial wealth gap. While a typical white family’s net worth is $171,000, a typical Black family’s is almost ten times less at $17,150.
Then bring into that mix coronavirus coupled with the past two weeks of massive nationwide protests in the wake of the deaths of Ahamud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; and George Floyd in Minneapolis, and you have our current state unemployment.
“It’s a mistake to disconnect the social from the economic,” said Andre Perry, a scholar at the Brookings Institution told the WSJ. “Criminal-justice reform can lead to economic justice. The more we become aware of how we’re devaluing Black lives, the more that education will unearth how we’re choking out people in economic policy.”
The events of the past two weeks can also be looked at as a direct response to what Black people are facing socioeconomically, particularly since much of the subsequent violence that happened in the midst of the protests affected Black communities.
“These protests are also a response to broader insecurity in these communities,” said American University economist Bradley Hardy to the WSJ. “You don’t feel secure with law enforcement, you don’t feel secure in your housing, with your health, or with employment.”
According to the WSJ, 3.5 million African Americans experienced job loss in March and April. Unemployment rates among Blacks eased in May, but not as much as for whites and Latinos. The May rate was a slight improvement from the roughly 14 percent rate prior. Gains in employment were also less than any increase in the African American community, so as a result African American unemployment rose while the rate for others decreased.
Valerie Wilson, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, told the WSJ that many public sector institutions like schools and city governments -- which are large employers of African Americans -- cut thousands of jobs. “Job losses due to the pandemic were fairly evenly distributed across racial groups,” said Wilson. “In just one month, you’ve seen the recovery will not be.”