The coronavirus has cost millions of Americans their jobs, but the pandemic has been particularly painful for African Americans.
In just a few short months, all of the hard-earned employment gains of the past decade among African Americans were wiped out. And those fortunate enough to still have jobs work disproportionately in positions that put them at a higher risk of catching COVID-19.
In May, the unemployment rate for African Americans climbed to 16.8%, peaking during the Great Recession ten years ago. Less than a year ago, the unemployment rate for blacks fell to an all-time high of 5.4%.
One of those who lost his job during the pandemic was George Floyd, the 46-year-old African-American man killed by police in Minneapolis, which sparked a wave of nationwide protests. Floyd had been fired by a local restaurant which closed in March upon the nationwide shutdown.
Worse yet, the percentage of African Americans aged 16 and over who are in the labor force fell below 50% in April for the first time since 1983 and stayed there in May.
And the unemployment rate typically rises much faster and falls more slowly for blacks than for whites, Hispanics, or Asian Americans. When African Americans lose a job, it takes longer, statistically, to find a new one.
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In May, for example, unemployment rates among whites and Hispanics posted notable declines. This is not the case, African Americans.
“This is concerning because African Americans who were previously inactive following previous recessions have started to return in numbers. Now we may have lost these people for a very long time, ”said Olugbenga Ajilore, senior economist at the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC.
It’s true that the unemployment rate among blacks is still below the all-time high of 21.2%, but probably only because so many people are literally putting their lives on the line in jobs that pose a high risk of HIV infection. coronavirus.
African Americans are heavily concentrated in businesses deemed essential such as grocery stores, parcel delivery, health care, security, food service, cleaning, maintenance and retail – tasks that do not cannot be performed from the security of one’s own home.
Most of these jobs expose them to the public and therefore to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. African Americans have accounted for about a quarter of the more than 100,000 American deaths from the virus, nearly double their share of the population.
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A study of the Hamilton Project of the Brooking Institution estimated that more than a third of workers deemed essential during shutdowns were black (16%) and Hispanic (21%).
“In this pandemic, black workers are more likely to be classified as essential, which means they keep their jobs but risk their health,” senior economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research recently wrote.
In contrast, white employees were more likely to have jobs that allow them to work from home. Some 48% of Asian Americans and 44% of whites could potentially telecommute, compared to only 34% of African Americans, Pew Research found.
Part of the gap between telecommuting and opportunities stems from long-standing disparities in education.
the black high school graduation rate is steadily increasing over the past decade, but still follows other major racial groups. And less than a third of African Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 63% for Asian Americans and 41% for whites, a 2018 study by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics showed.
Those with college degrees typically earn more than those who never made it through high school, often finding themselves in the types of clerical and managerial jobs that have been better protected from the damage caused by the pandemic.
The education gap also contributes to a wage gap compared to other groups. The median weekly income of African Americans working full time in 2018 was just $ 694 compared to $ 916 for whites and $ 1,095 for Asian Americans, according to the BLS. Only Hispanics earned less.
Another factor is the relative prevalence of two-income households. About 42% of African American households are headed by a woman, without a man, according to the BLS study. This compares to just 15% among whites and an even lower percentage among Asian Americans.
These disparities in income and wealth, derived in part from a persistent history of racism and discriminatory practices such as redlining, have led less than half of all African American families to own a home. Almost three quarters of whites live on properties they own.
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Since real estate ownership accounts for a large portion of equity, African Americans tend to have little leeway in dealing with an economic disaster like the one brought on by the coronavirus.
A Federal Reserve Study 2016 found that the average net wealth of black households was $ 138,000, compared to $ 934,000 for whites. And half of all African American households had less than $ 18,000 in net worth.