- Research from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit Lean In shows that black women are among the hardest hit by the coronavirus unemployment crisis.
- The survey of more than 2,600 people found that black women were twice as likely as white men to say that they were laid off or furloughed in the wake of the pandemic.
- Black women were also much more likely than white men to say they were struggling to pay rent and pay for basic necessities, according to the survey.
- A recent study from the Economic Policy Institute backed up those findings, showing that black women are more than 30% more likely to be out of work during the pandemic than white men.
- This economic inequality is due to a number of factors, including that black women are overrepresented in the service industry, and are paid less than white men and women.
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The coronavirus pandemic, and the history-making rise in unemployment, has impacted millions of Americans. But among the worst hit by the economic fallout are black women, according to data from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit, Lean In, which is backed up by a new study from left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute.
Lean In’s survey of more than 2,600 people found that black women are twice as likely as white men to say that they’d either been laid off, furloughed, or had their hours or pay reduced because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some 54% of black women reported facing economic challenges like getting laid off or having their pay docked, compared to 44% of black men, 31% of white women, and 27% of white men.
When asked how long they could survive (in other words, pay for rent and groceries) if they lost their income, 34% of black women said less than one month, versus 28% of black men, 25% of white women and 11% of white men.
EPI’s study reaffirmed the disparities that Lean In found related to race and gender, highlighting that black women are 32% more likely than white men to be out of work during the pandemic.
In its analysis of data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, EPI determined that the unemployment rate for black women in April was 16.9%, compared with 16.4% for black men, 15.8% for white women, and 12.8% for white men. Even looking at the percentage of a demographic currently employed (which helps account for people who aren’t actively looking for work), EPI found that black women are employed at the lowest rate and saw the steepest dropoff from February to April.
“Although the current strain of the coronavirus is one that humans have never experienced before, the disparate racial impact of the virus is deeply rooted in historic and ongoing social and economic injustices,” the report’s authors, Elise Gould and Valerie Wilson, wrote.
As Sheryl Sandberg told Business Insider in a recent interview, the pandemic is exposing and exacerbating inequality that already exists.
“Inequality is very real, and it’s been very real for a really long time,” she said. “Any time systems get put under pressure, there’s a crisis. Those differences get massively exacerbated.”
Black women are overrepresented in the service sector
Nearly a third of black women are employed in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women, according to Nina Banks, associate professor of economics at Bucknell University. This is due to decades of discrimination, Banks writes for the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit.
“Until the 1970s, employers’ exclusion of black women from better-paying, higher-status jobs with mobility meant that they had little choice but to perform private domestic service work for white families,” the professor writes.
The height of the civil rights movement was in the 1950s and 1960s, and it was not that long ago, in 1963, that approximately 250,000 people took part in The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.”
Fast forward to today, and headlines show the service industry (where women of colour are overrepresented) has been one of the most devastated by mass layoffs.
Domestic workers like nannies and “cleaning ladies” have taken a huge hit too. Some 72% were out of work this week, according to a new survey from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Reuters reported. Domestic workers are more likely to be women of colour and/or immigrants rather than white women who are not immigrants.
Black women are also paid less than white men and women
Lean In’s finding that black women are the most likely to worry about paying for basic necessities during the pandemic is also, sadly, not surprising.
While white women earn an average of $US53,900, approximately 80% white men earn, black women earn 66% of what white men earn, or an average of $US36,700, according to 2018 US Census Bureau data.
“Women of colour suffer both because of their gender and their race,” according to an April 2016 report released by the Senate Joint Economic Committee’s democratic staff.
Women of colour, as well as men of colour, are also less likely to get sought-after, well-paying corporate jobs. A 2016 study co-authored by a Harvard University professor found that African American and Asian job applicants who masked their race on resumes, or “whitened” their names, had better success getting job interviews than those who didn’t.
During the crisis, white-collar workers have been able to work remotely, while those in blue-collar and service sector jobs are unable to.
As the authors of the Lean In report put it: “The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just a global health crisis. It’s an economic crisis – one that will uniquely impact vulnerable communities and that means women.”