"Difficult" doesn't begin to sum up the years 2020 and 2021— it's the black mirror season that doesn't seem to end. Covid-19, especially, has devastated every border, and no one, creed or color, has been able to escape it.
Though suffering has been universal, this pandemic has not been equitable—women, especially women of color, have suffered most. The virus disproportionately claims their lives, and economic hardship, already imposed by systemic inequalities and structural racism, has increased during the pandemic. Black families, mainly led by women, have reported severe financial troubles.
Black women and other women of color stand amid very critical intersections: race, class, and gender. Historically women of color have been disregarded, and the pandemic has created more obstacles, especially economically. The pandemic unemployment rate has been its worst since the Depression Era, and black women and other women of color have become unemployed at the highest rates. The Economic Policy Institute reports that women have been unemployed at a rate of 6.3% during the pandemic, twice as high as the rate before the pandemic began. Black and Latinx women are the backbones of the labor workforce, disproportionately holding jobs in:
- service fields
They also hold essential roles in their households, being breadwinners more than any other race. But the pandemic has crushed women in the workforce. According to the National Women's Law Center, 140,00 jobs were lost in December; all belonged to women.
Women of Color have always been at an economic disadvantage in comparison to their white counterparts. The Racial Wealth Gap has destabilized them for centuries due to racist and discriminatory policies and practices. The gap affects black women most, and experts say the pandemic will continue to widen the racial wealth gap and the gender gap, impacting generations of black women to come.
Since the end of the Great Recession, Black women in Rhode Island are the only race of women who have seen a decrease in their wages, while Latina women lose the most in median wages over a lifetime. Yet, these women bore the labor workforce’s brunt. Two in five Rhode Island women work in health care, social assistance, or educational services, and approximately 4% more of those women are of color. They earn fewer wages but are more exposed to long hours, fewer benefits, and at times, dangerous and high-risk work environments. During a pandemic, these women are often front line workers, risking their lives and those of their family and friends. The pandemic also puts them at higher risks of job loss and being overworked and under-compensated.
We must take action and fight for policies that ensure women, especially those of color, are economically secure, independent, and protected. Women's Fund of Rhode Island provides an in-depth report on women's economic security and well-being in Rhode Island and can offer more insight.