The coronavirus has caused a crisis in the deep, long-lasting economic inequality in the United States. And women, especially women of color, communities of color, and impoverished Americans are the hardest hit by the economic downturn.
On May 7, Vox Media and the National Partnership for Women and Families organized a panel discussion about the ways in which the coronavirus has had a disproportionate impact on various segments of the workforce, and the ways in which people already struggling continue to lag behind during the pandemic. The discussion focused on the impact of the crisis on workers, the disadvantages many people faced when they entered the crisis, and whether there is hope that all of this will lead to real change. Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, and Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, joined the panel, along with Vox senior reporter Anna North and Vox reporter Emily Stewart (me).
“In very subtle and not so subtle ways, we have looked at these cultural norms and this social policy that continues and devalues the work that women do,” said Ness.
More than 33 million Americans have done so since the onset of the crisis archived new unemployed claims. In the month of April alone, more than 20.5 million jobs were lost and the unemployment rate rose to 14.7 percent. Unemployment insurance systems are overwhelmed, causing many unemployed people to struggle. Meanwhile, essential workers who have kept their jobs are in a precarious place. They continue to work and endanger themselves and their families, often for low wages and insufficient benefits. Many prefer to quit their jobs, but feel they cannot because they usually disqualify you from unemployment benefits.
Look one layer deeper and you begin to see what these workers look like. The unemployment rate in April was 13 percent for men and 15.5 percent for women; it is 14.2 percent for whites, 14.5 percent for Asians, 16.7 percent for blacks, and 18.9 percent for Hispanics. And for every racial group, the unemployment rate for women is higher than for men. And many essential jobs are held disproportionately high Ladies, people of color, and those who are already vulnerable.
“Very few people realize to what extent we are talking about these frontline workers and essential workers that we are talking about,” said Ness.
The coronavirus crisis has revealed many cracks in the system and exacerbated long-term inequalities. Take the gender pay gap, for example: women earn about 80 cents per dollar compared to men, and statistics are much worse for black and Hispanic women. Women with a full-time job a collective loses an estimated $ 900 billion every year. Now, in the global pandemic, government officials have shut down wide swathes of the economy. Those who previously made less money and were therefore less able to save have a harder time surviving the storm.
“If you get less money, you will be less able to deal with any kind of crisis or income disruption,” Dixon said.
As the US begins to weather the coronavirus crisis and the accompanying economic catastrophe, the question becomes whether there can be a positive change in the pandemic. More Americans have suffered the effects of an inadequate social safety net, and the country has recognized the vital importance of some, often unrecognized, workers. Policies and government actions that seemed unimaginable a few months ago – stimulus controls for US households, extensive unemployment benefits – have been introduced. The country can return to what it used to be, or it could look at some sort of new New Deal, like what happened after the Great Depression, and create a fairer America.