By: Simone Soublet
The COVID-19 pandemic has been claiming countless lives across the United States, regardless of age, race, or social status. Yet people of color have been shown to be disproportionately impacted ever since coronavirus cases and deaths began to surge in mid-March. Now, five months later, not much has changed.
- 1 in 1,250 Black Americans has died (or 80.4 deaths per 100,000)
- 1 in 1,500 Indigenous Americans has died (or 66.8 deaths per 100,000)
- 1 in 1,700 Pacific Islander Americans has died (or 58.7 deaths per 100,000)
- 1 in 2,200 Latino Americans has died (or 45.8 deaths per 100,000)
- 1 in 2,800 White Americans has died (or 35.9 deaths per 100,000)
- 1 in 3,000 Asian Americans has died (or 33.1 deaths per 100,000)
This is particularly problematic for women of color, who often play a crucial role in maintaining the economic stability of their families. According to the Center for American Progress, 67.5% of African American mothers and 41.4% of Latina mothers are the primary breadwinners in their families, compared to only 37% of white mothers.
“The largest number of single mothers in this country are women of color,” says Mona Sinha, a member of the Board of Directors of Women Moving Millions, a leading non-profit, “They have to make larger investments in their families with much lower income. So, who suffers in this case? It is the mother, the sister, or the daughter in the family who has to make personal sacrifices to make sure everybody else is taken care of.”
To effect future changes and policies, it is important to understand some of the reasons why women of color are being impacted at higher rates by the virus.
The chart above demonstrates that women of color are primarily employed in fields where they are more apt to be exposed to the Coronavirus. For example, essential and domestic workers like nursing assistants, home health care providers, grocery store cashiers, domestic workers, and childcare providers are primarily women of color. Further, threats to their health are compounded by their challenges in attaining health insurance from their employers due to the fields in which they are primarily employed.
“Around healthcare, the impact of COVID is a health issue that showed that the health disparities that existed before just got worse, made people more vulnerable and more susceptible to COVID, and increased the chances of dying from COVID,” says Ana Olivera, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation. “Healthcare has been a long conversation in this country. The best that we could get was health insurance associated with employment. But health insurance needs to be associated with just being alive. This is the time for policies that provide universal health care access. They have to exist.”
Women of color also face inequities regarding their living and working conditions. For example, according to the National League of Cities, low-income women of color are particularly cost-burdened and face higher rates of eviction. Further, occupational segregation has resulted in Black and Latinx people being overrepresented in low-wage jobs, which often cannot be transitioned to remote work despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You have so many women who are doing nursing care,” says Seher Khawaja, Senior Attorney for Economic Empowerment at Legal Momentum in New York City. “Those women who have been called to the front lines have been exposing themselves and putting their health at risk. They were already making inadequate pay, but now the risks you’re asking women to take on are substantially higher. They’re exposing their whole families by going to work every day,” Seher continues.
The pandemic has also brought to light the issue of unequal pay, benefits, and support within the trans women of color communities. “The loss of income during COVID and the inability to access government help has deeply impacted trans people disproportionately,” says Imara Jones, creator of TransLash and The Last Sip. “I think there’s been a response from mutual aid societies to assist trans communities in helping them figure out how to get cash, how to get food, and how to get rent assistance to those people directly.”
When it comes to the recently enacted COVID-19 laws (i.e. The Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security CARES Act, The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act) , too many essential workers, including healthcare providers, emergency responders, grocery store clerks, undocumented immigrants, etc., were excluded from the relief package. “While it was great to see quick movement on federal legislation to provide what should have already been there; paid sick time, paid emergency, and paid leave to care for family members due to various different COVID related events,” Khawaja says, “What we saw was that it excluded way too many workers who are most vulnerable.”
“If you look at how women of color and, particularly, the trans women of color community, the pandemic has really shone a bright light on the unequal treatment people receive in this country,” Sinha adds.