Women of Color and COVID-19
United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
Women of Color and COVID-19
While statistics show that COVID-19 impacts African Americans at higher rates, it is women of color who are especially likely to bear the brunt of this public health crisis as a result of historical structural inequities and discrimination.
The New York Times notes this crisis has a predominantly nonwhite, female face. The Society for Women’s Health Research confirms that women of color face the compounded harms and challenges associated with both their gender and ethnicity.
The COVID-19 pandemic draws attention to the connections across gender, race and class. Numerous organizations, researchers, academicians, economists and public health specialists have weighed in on reasons COVID-19 is hitting Black American women so hard. Today’s brief highlights findings and discussions from several studies and surveys.
In May, Essence magazine released a major study on the impact of COVID-19 on Black American women The subject is all the more important, as “Black women comprise just over half of the Black population, are one of the most influential and active voting blocs in the U.S., and are heads of household in almost 30 percent of all Black households, which is more than twice the rate for all women,” said Richelieu Dennis, founder and chair of Essence Ventures, parent company of Essence magazine.
Significant findings indicate that:
- One in four Black women surveyed personally knew someone who had died from COVID-19, and 44 percent personally knew someone who had contracted it.
- 63 percent of survey respondents said their mental health had been affected negatively.
- 56 percent of those surveyed reported they were facing a lack of access and availability of food and household essentials.
- 70 percent of Black women business owners reported negative trends, and 52 percent reported negative effects on their work and financial lives.
Risk of COVID-19 related job loss is a reality for many Black women, the survey confirmed. 54 percent of Black women reported facing economic challenges including getting laid off, being furloughed and/or having their hours or pay reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic.The Economic Policy Institute agreed with Lean In, showing in its recent study that Black women are more than 30 percent more likely to be out of work during the pandemic than white men.
Many Black women are struggling to pay basic rent and necessities. When asked how long they could survive (paying rent and buying groceries) if they lost their income, 34 percent said less than one month.
Even before the pandemic, women of color already faced multiple barriers. Black and Hispanic women constitute 70 percent of the workers in jobs that pay less than $10/ hour. Women in low-paying service and sales jobs are less likely to have sick leave and quality childcare, data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission show. According to Nina Banks, Associate Professor of Economics at Bucknell University, nearly a third of Black women are employed in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women
She highlights that women of color also dominate in domestic work, where they have no job security. Either they are not working during the pandemic, or are working in jobs deemed essential that cause them to be at higher risk of getting sick. Mothers who work in industries on the frontline are more likely to be women of color.
The Department of DePaul Women and Gender Studies (see graphic) reported that women made up 55 percent of the 20.5 million jobs lost in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for women was at 15 percent compared to 13 percent for men. Non-white women were particularly affected. Unemployment rates of Black women in April was at 16.4 percent and 20.2 percent for Hispanic women. It is expected that the COVID-19 recession will greatly impact women of color.
COVID-19 also affects healthcare access and delivery. Daily, Black women confront the reality of not being believed by medical practitioners as well as being in professions in which they are simultaneously essential and undervalued. Poorer and houseless Black women may face substantial barriers in seeking care or may not be able to stop working in high-risk jobs like caretaking in assisted living facilities, in custodial and clerical work at hospitals, or as cashiers/clerks in grocery stores. Not working puts their livelihoods in limbo; working puts their lives in jeopardy. The choice between potential death and unlivable living is one far too many Black women are already making and will continue to make in the coming months.
COVID-19 also changes the broader medical landscape for Black women seeking healthcare for other illnesses and ailments. Currently, many people living with lupus, an autoimmune disorder, are not able to access Plaquenil, a drug used to treat some of the effects of lupus, because of the largely untested possibility of it serving as an effective treatment for COVID-19. Black women are disproportionately burdened by lupus and will be unduly harmed by the inaccessibility of this drug.
Lastly, we cannot ignore that the myth of the strong woman, and particularly the strong Black woman, is alive and well. The truth is that the stress and duress of COVID-19 reap untold negative mental and physical toll on women of color, who many times are suffering silently as they deal with the effects of COVID-19 along with the mental and physical health consequences of day-to-day family and work responsibilities in an environment of pervasive racial and gender discrimination.