The Black Woman’s Guide to the COVID-19 ECONOMY
The Black Woman’s Guide to the COVID-19 ECONOMY
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I wish I had paid more attention in my economics classes in college. But at 20 I didn’t understand how markets, pricing strategy, and monetary policy had anything to do with me.
Then, in my 30s, my marriage came grinding to a halt, and I found myself confronted by the prospect of losing my home. I still remember my hand shaking as I called Countrywide to see if I could qualify for my mortgage on my own. I didn’t make enough money to stay in the house.
I was surprised when the bank representative said, “No problem” and offered me an adjustable rate mortgage. I breathed a sigh of relief. My 2-year-old daughter and I would be able to stay put.
It turns out that readjusting your mortgage interest rate every few years is a terrible idea, and we know now that these mortgages were predatory loans. When the housing market bubble burst in 2008, millions of Black and Brown families lost their homes – and with them, the bulk of their wealth.
Now, I get it.
The economy is not a remote concept controlled by an invisible hand. Our economy is us. The decisions our elected officials make about taxes, overtime, minimum wage laws, bankruptcy, mortgage qualifications, and a whole host of other issues (on our behalf) impact the most intimate details of our lives.
Today, we find ourselves hurtling through a new round of economic chaos precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 30 million people are out of work. With so many of us already living paycheck to paycheck and serving as primary or sole breadwinners for our families, this is a disaster.
Through this guide, we are promoting three structural policy ideas – guaranteed income, guaranteed housing, and guaranteed wealth – that we have to fight for if we are ever going to make our economy work for us. We also wrote this guide to help you make the personal changes necessary to navigate this new economy right now.
To turn our household finances right side up, we have to do more than monitor daily budgets. We have to come together as homeowners, renters, workers, students, parents, caretakers, business owners, and more to demand and make policy change.
Let’s get started.
This guide was co-authored by Jocelyn Harmon and Solana Rice with support from Angela Dorn, and Jeremie Greer.
“Centering Black women is important at any moment, but particularly now as we think about ways to rebuild the economy in a way that is more fair and equitable and inclusive given our current economic recession.”
THE COVID-19 ECONOMY AND BLACK WOMEN
The COVID-19 economy is characterized by high unemployment rates and business closures. It has been officially labeled a recession. The rates of unemployment for many groups exceed those witnessed in the Great Recession.
Black women have been particularly hard hit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Black Americans rose to 16.9% in April. And a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that African American businesses are being hit the hardest by COVID-19. “The first estimates from April 2020 for Black business owners in the United States indicate a massive drop of 41 percent.”
While unemployment skyrocketed for Black and white workers in the Covid-19 labor market, the unemployment rate is higher for Black workers
Unemployment rates by race, and by race and gender, February-April 2020
The situation is likely to continue to worsen because unemployment rates for Black Americans always trend at least two times higher than the rate for whites. According to the Brookings Institution,
“The disparity between black and white unemployment rates is not a new phenomenon; unemployment rates for black workers have been consistently higher than for white workers over the past 60 years. While black unemployment roughly mirrors the positive and negative trends of its white counterpart, the black rate is predictably double. For example, the white unemployment rate rose to 9.1% in 1983. But for black Americans, the rate jumped to 21.1%.”
Now we’re essential?
For many of us who are still working, the situation is not much better. As “essential workers,” we’ve been called back to workplaces that don’t have strong safety measures in place. Working in public-facing roles increases our risk of being exposed to the disease.
According to BlackHer Shero Jocelyn Frye,
“Many of the top jobs in which women of color work—such as nursing assistants, home health aides, and child care workers providing emergency child care—are included in the categories of jobs deemed by many jurisdictions as essential; thus, these women are required to go to work in the face of an unprecedented crisis … For example, nearly one-third of all nursing assistants and home health aides are Black women. Among early childhood workers in center- and home-based settings, nearly 40 percent are people of color—many of whom are women.”
Center for American Progress
Pouring fuel on a burning fire
It’s important to note that the U.S. economy wasn’t a picnic for Black women prior to the pandemic. According to the Asset Funders Network, before COVID-19, the median wealth for single Black women was $200, compared to $15,640 for single white women and $28,900 for single white men. And Black women have long faced wage inequality at work. Black women make 66 cents for every dollar white men make. COVID-19 added fuel to an existing economic fire.
Median wealth for U.S. single women/single men by race
Source: Prosperity Now
Women’s annual earnings compared to white men’s
“We know that economic security is a right and a necessity for all to thrive in this country.”
Keisha Lance Bottoms
ADVANCING THE 3 G’s
We like to think we are in control of our lives, that we determine our own destinies, but the truth is that most of our successes and challenges are affected by laws, rules, and systems we can’t see. A recent Harvard study investigated why Massachusetts had high rates of incarceration among Black and Latinx people. The researchers found one reason: systemic racism. In 2017, researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis created a model to study the causes of the racial wealth gap. They found that 80% of the racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites can be explained by structural issues. Their study showed that a college education doesn’t yield the same returns for Black graduates. Black homeowners are more likely to experience foreclosure. And unlike Black people, white people are much more likely to inherit wealth. According to the famous economist Raj Chetty, a key driver of social mobility in the U.S. is the zip code in which you are born.
It’s time to let go of the false idea that we can change our economic and financial lives on our own. It’s time to say goodbye to the “I pulled myself up by my bootstraps” myth. Instead, we need to double down on advancing structural change by altering the rules that govern our fate. That means voting in every election and choosing people who really represent our interests. It means advocating to hold local, state, and federal officials accountable.
Here, we share ways we can come together as Black women to advance structural change and create an economy that works for us. Guaranteed income, guaranteed wealth, and guaranteed housing (the 3Gs) are essential for establishing financial security. But, please note, these guarantees are just the beginning. We’ll share more about the additional guarantees we deserve and can advocate for in future guides.
Sixty-six cents. That is how much Black women are paid for every dollar paid to white men with the same education, in the same geographic location, and of the same age. COVID-19 rhetoric that we are “essential workers” who will save our economy doesn’t match our compensation. Black women who are healthcare providers, cashiers, and teachers earn between seventy-three cents and eighty-nine cents per dollar paid to white men in these essential functions. These disparities have never been okay and are detrimental to our health and our economy.
A guaranteed or basic income provides an income floor for all of us who need it. Those who qualify due to their level of income receive monthly payments from the federal, state, or local government. It is not contingent on work, and it supplements income from wages for those who are employed.
Guaranteed income pilots are happening across the country right now, and they work! It turns out that when people living in poverty have more cash, it lowers the poverty rate, reduces stress, and enables people to have more agency over their lives.
Guaranteed income is not a new idea – listen to the More Than Enough podcast by Mia Birdsong to learn more. Next, see if your mayor is committed to a guaranteed income and sign this petition to Congress.
BlackHer Shero Aisha Nyandoro is CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, the home of the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, a guaranteed income demonstration project in Mississippi. Through her organization, twenty Black mothers in Jackson received $1,000 a month for a year. With additional cash, moms were able to pay basic expenses, stress less, and feel more hopeful about the future. Learn more.
Wealth is calculated by the value of what you own (savings, a house, a car, etc.) minus the amount you owe (credit card debt, student loans, etc.). Wealth is more than a number – having savings and wealth provides some security and gives you a little more control over your own life.
Black women have pennies on the dollar in wealth compared to white men. This is not because we don’t save, or spend too much on our hair! The Black women’s wealth gap is caused by a whole host of reasons. As mentioned above, employers undercompensate us for our work. We are less likely than other demographics to own our homes. Our educational degrees and entrepreneurial activities don’t always pave the way for building wealth either, especially when they require having wealth in the first place.
We can build significant savings and guarantee wealth for ourselves and our children through a concept called baby bonds. Under this proposal, a special account, or baby bond, is created by the U.S. government for every infant born in the U.S. The money in the account is seeded with a deposit from the government, earns interest over time, and can be withdrawn at the age of 18 to buy a home, start a new business, or go to school. Scholars estimate that with a deposit of $1,000 a year ($2,000 for children of lower-income families), the wealth gap between white and Black young adults would nearly close.
Kilolo Kijakazi, fellow with the Urban Institute, has dedicated much of her career to developing research, practice, and policy to close the racial wealth gap. Check out her most recent proposal to host a demonstration project for baby bonds. New Jersey is taking the lead!
Paying rent or mortgage is difficult when you are out of work. And millions of us are at risk of being evicted due to the pandemic. This is the perfect time to push for guaranteed housing and affirm that housing is a human right. Black women are being and have been disproportionately impacted by evictions due to displacement from gentrification. We’ve also been systemically locked out of homeownership opportunities.
Organizers with People’s Action developed a suite of bold reforms that challenge our traditional idea that housing should be a commodity from which (mostly white) people build exorbitant amounts of wealth.
The Homes Guarantee calls for building 12 million units of social housing that is permanently off the market, reaches more people than just those with very low incomes, and provides a public option for housing. The Homes Guarantee also proposes unclogging the backlog of repairs for the 1.1 million units of existing public housing.
Black women are leading the grassroots organizing team of the Homes Guarantee. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has taken the first step by introducing the Homes for All Act, which is based on the Homes Guarantee proposals.
Click here to support this movement to #CancelRent, end evictions, and push for a Homes Guarantee in response to COVID-19.
“I’m not saying people shouldn’t try to do better and be better in their lives. There is no movement for irresponsibility, but we’re talking about the structural inequities built into our economy. We’re asking the question, ‘What is the nature of a racist, sexist, predatory capitalist system? And how do you change that?”
Economist, Author, Commentator
9 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW
The COVID-19 economy is scary and threatens to further erode our economic power and physical health. We need to come together to advocate for bold new economic policies, including those outlined above, to build an economy that finally works for us. Though individual choices won’t rectify the oppression built into our society, we can make some personal changes to better endure our current reality. Here are some ideas on how to do that.
1. Apply for unemployment insurance
If you are unemployed, apply for unemployment benefits now. They can provide a lifeline for you and your family. While unemployment benefits vary dramatically from state to state, the money you receive can help you pay the bills while you find a new job.
Go to your state’s unemployment insurance program to learn more about eligibility and apply.
2. Pick up additional work
It hurts my heart to say this, since so many of us are already working at the max, but another way to stabilize your income is to diversify the revenue coming into your household. You can do this by picking up another job or doing some freelance work. Below are some resources that may help.
3. Reskill or upskill
A longer-term strategy for achieving income stability includes reskilling or upskilling, whether you work for others or are an entrepreneur. BlackHer Shero Angela Jackson, partner at New Profit and architect of its Future of Work strategy, gave us the following tips on how to prepare for the jobs of the future.
First, take a moment to reflect on what you want to do next. It’s hard to pause when you are out of work, but it’s important to take the time to research jobs and industries that have a promising future. Especially if you’ve been working in one field for a long time, it’s good to take stock of the new and more lucrative careers out there. Also, don’t assume that you’re only qualified to do one job or work in one field. It’s likely that you have skills that are transferable to other industries. My Next Move is a great service that will suggest occupations and jobs to match your skills.
Second, check out your local workforce center for free and paid training opportunities and more. There are 593 workforce boards and 2,400 American Job Centers across the country. Go to CareerOneStop to learn more. These centers are funded by our federal, state, and local tax dollars, and their sole purpose is to help us acquire new skills. In addition to training, you can get help updating your resume and preparing for interviews. If you don’t find a course you are looking for, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
Finally, it’s important to be a savvy consumer when accessing any training, even if it’s free, because all training programs are not created equal. Ask these questions before you sign up:
- What is your job placement rate?
- What is the beginning hourly wage for this profession?
Any training program should be able to answer these questions. If they can’t, run the other way!
Before heading to class, you need to know that your precious time and money will yield the wage and job that you want. Be a cautious consumer and get the best return on your investment for you!
Pro tip: Some training programs offer income-sharing agreements to their students. They provide you with training in exchange for a percentage of your paycheck once you land a new job. Ask your training provider about this.
4. Limit your expenses – start tracking!
There are two sides to every household economy. If you want to stay in the black or have more money to save every month, you must have revenue coming in, but you also have to control the amount of money you spend. Black women are masters of living on a budget – we’ve had to be. Here are additional tips we’ve learned about how to stay above water:
In order to know which expenses you can cut, you have to know how much you can spend, and that means building and living within a budget. Start tracking! Just like tracking what you eat every day can help you understand how, when, and where to cut back, tracking what you spend can help you know where to trim.
Tiffany Aliche, also known as the Budgetnista, is famous for her work to help us live well within our means. Check out her free resources on how to build a budget in seven days.
5. Renegotiate expenses
If you are renting your home, your landlord might be open to reducing your rent in order to keep you as a tenant. You can also reach out to your cable or cell phone provider to reduce or eliminate these expenses.
6. Create a sharing economy
Black women are great at sharing what we have with others, but we’re not always great about asking for help. This is not a time to be prideful. Connect with a family member or friend whom you trust, and brainstorm ways to share expenses. You’ll be surprised at how much money you can save. Borrow instead of buying your own high-ticket items. Just remember to protect yourself and your loved ones by wearing your mask and washing your hands when you are sharing the company of others.
In 55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal, BlackHer Shero Elizabeth White has lots of great ideas about how to save money and build community by connecting with each other during tough times.
7. Plan for the future
One of the reasons that the COVID-19 economy is hitting us so hard is because we don’t have generational wealth or savings to fall back on. Wealth – what you own minus what you owe – is critical for surviving and thriving amidst the ups and downs of life. As mentioned above, single Black women have median wealth of just $200.
It’s important to save whenever you can. Check out SaverLife for tips and tools for saving on a budget.
8. Get life insurance and appoint a power of attorney
Black women and men are dying from COVID-19 at nearly double our share of the U.S. population. We need to protect our families and children by getting life insurance.
Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.3 times the rate of white people
Deaths per 100,000 people by race or ethnicity
Source: Covid Tracking Project
9. Create a will
BlackHer Shero Lori Douglass is adamant that every Black woman should have a will, and we agree. You should always use a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, contact your local bar associations for resources.
“Don’t agonize, organize.”
The COVID-19 economy is hurting Black women. It’s important to underscore that our financial distress is not our fault. It’s the result of centuries of institutional and economic policy decisions that have failed us. If we want to create a fair and just economy where Black women and all Americans can thrive, then we have to do more than make individual changes. We have to come together to fix our economy at the root and build new systems to help us thrive. Our power is in our numbers. Let’s come together and fight!
RESOURCES FOR YOU
Organizations & Campaigns
Closing the Women’s Wealth Gap
Mayors for a Guaranteed Income
Black Women Best: The Framework We Need for an Equitable Economy
COVID, Race, and the Revolution
The Early Impact of COVID-19 on Job Losses among Black Women in the United States
How Baby Bonds Could Help Americans Start Adulthood Strong and Narrow the Racial Wealth Gap
Listen and Watch
Fifty-five, Unemployed, Faking Normal
Poverty Can Be Solved. Just Trust Poor People.
Why Centering Black Women in the Economy Could Benefit Everyone