COVID-19, Black Women and Why Equitable Recovery Matters
By: Monica Sanders, J.D., LL.M
Lecturer Georgetown University, Associate Professor, University of Delaware
Among the many lessons coming from this pandemic, for frontline communities, social inequality is the most prevalent. Resilience or survivability to this event is tied to wealth, privilege and access to the digital economy and academic frameworks. You need Internet access to be able to work from home or have the capacity to run your business online. In order to home school children, you need access, skill and appropriate instructional support. The absence of this access and support in families will have long-term impacts on their financial and emotional resilience.
Within the various intersections of poverty, structural racism, misogyny and lack of societal concerns, Black women tend to be the most susceptible to their impacts. Thus, a construct of creating equitable recovery must not only include, but give Black women a voice.
So why Black Women?
They (We) are the proverbial keystones to understanding the impacts of multiple intersections in challenges to recovery. According to recent research from the New York Times, Black and Latinx families across rural and urban contexts are three times more likely to contract coronavirus than white families¹. Within those groups, Black women are more likely to be heads of households. In fact they are 20% more likely to be so than Hispanic women and more than 30% more likely to be than white women ². They are also most likely to be “essential” workers, employed as nurse’s aides, cashiers and other retail workers as well as nursing and elementary school teachers. For example, 54% of health aide workers are women of color and more than half are Black ³. Dealing with just this set of statistics, Black women are more likely to contract the virus because of their disproportionate role in wage work. For the same reason, they are less likely to be able to telework, home school their children or be able to afford child care generally and in the context of the pandemic.
We know that health care disparities consistently count against Black women, regardless of socioeconomic status. Studies show that as income increases, so does health and quality of life. However, Blacks have lower life expectancy than their white counterparts at every level. In fact, research shows that a child born to a Black woman with a Ph.D is three times more likely to die than one born to a white woman with a high school diploma⁴. In addition to being more susceptible to intimate partner violence, Black women have higher indications of mental health conditions associated with confronting daily, gendered racism⁵. Yet their access to care is more limited than other groups. Additionally, there is anecdotal evidence that referrals to testing and treatment for COVID-19 are less for Blacks than other groups⁶. The systemic exclusion of this particular group is exhausting to write about. Imagine living it.
What could equitable recovery look like?
First, make response frameworks equitable and culturally responsive. The emergency management community disproportionately has more white males and has a culture of focusing on the event and not the people experiencing it⁷. It is important for emergency managers to understand the cultural underpinnings and challenges of distressed communities, in this case, the Black community and the women who disproportionately support families in that community. Knowing what we know about the challenges of child care and education, during mass scale events, HHS should issue child care vouchers that can be used in centers or for in-home care. There is also an opportunity for the Department of Education to work with private industry to create support tools for at home and digital education.
The next step is to create new IRS regulations that allow for tax breaks for purchasing computer equipment for educational purposes and allow poor households (irrespective of homeownership) to write off Internet access similarly to how white collar workers can in order to incentivize availability of educational tools in the home. Additionally, FEMA rental assistance needs to be scaled to income rather than homeownership and available during all-hazards events, not just ‘natural disasters’.
Finally, make livelihood development and training in the digital economy part of recovery. In the United States, we know that creation of an open Internet created this new economic sector, which rivals that of the auto industry in size and impact⁸. Within that community, we know that startups led by black women have doubled since 2016⁹. Using this environment to create opportunities in their neighborhoods could create outcomes in which Black women are simultaneously less impacted and more resilient.
Why does it matter?
Globally, we recognize the power of women in uplifting their communities. We note that women involved in development, mitigation and other activities not only increase economic output for current groups, but are more likely to do child-inclusive planning which guarantees outcomes for the next generation¹⁰. In the United States we overlook them in important ways. We recognize Black women as a powerful voting block, 55% percent turned out in the last election, six-percent above the national average¹¹. Despite the numerous challenges noted earlier in this article and not receiving even a notable amount of funding, Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in this country by far ¹². There has been a 164% increase in Black women led firms since 2007. Black women are the most educated demographic in the country when looking at the number of people receiving associates and bachelors degrees ¹³. As in other areas, they tend to be underfunded and underpaid¹⁴, further underscoring that education is not necessarily an escape from inequality and gendered racism.
These numbers represent a dismal reality, but also an optimistic one. We cannot measure internal resilience or individual capacity to mitigate in all manner of challenging circumstances. First, we have to acknowledge the contributions and potential of Black women despite the intersecting challenges they face. In making the decision to deploy creative preparedness and resilience solutions, we will also have to be imaginative. Activists, policymakers and agencies should take a hard look on how these women, and the children and communities they raise and influence, will generate wealth and resilience if armed with resources to recover from this event. If the most vulnerable of us recovers successfully, we all recover successfully.
- Oppel, R. A., Gebeloff, R., & Rebecca, K. K. (2020, July 05). The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/07/05/us/coronavirus-latinos-african-americans-cdc-data.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes
- Glynn, S. J. (n.d.). Breadwinning Mothers Continue To Be the U.S. Norm. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/10/469739/breadwinning-mothers-continue-u-s-norm/
- Frye, J. (n.d.). On the Frontlines at Work and at Home: The Disproportionate Economic Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Women of Color. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/04/23/483846/frontlines-work-home/
- American Heart Association News (February 13, 2020), Health Disparities Even in the Face of Economic Success, Baffles Experts, retrieved from: https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/02/13/health-disparities-even-in-the-face-of-socioeconomic-success-baffle-experts
- Lacey KK, Parnell R, Mouzon DM, et alThe mental health of US Black women: the roles of social context and severe intimate partner violenceBMJ Open 2015;5:e008415. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015–008415
- Coronavirus in African Americans and Other People of Color. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/covid19-racial-disparities
- Sanders, M. The need for participatory cultural competence in disaster response and humanitarian interventions, (publication pending) Encyclopedia of Homeland Security 2020
- Sanders, M. (2018, December 10). An Open, Inclusive Internet is a Global Economic Driver. Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://www.i2coalition.com/an-open-inclusive-internet-is-a-global-economic-driver/
- Inclusive Entrepreneurship. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://casefoundation.org/program/inclusive-entrepreneurship/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrc6yk9C56gIVzZ6zCh28mg9tEAAYASAAEgIOJ_D_BwE
- Finance and Development. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2012/03/revenga.htm
- Eversley, M. (2019, August 16). Black Women Voters Will Be Central to the 2020 Presidential Election, Experts Predict. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2019/06/20/black-women-voters-2020-election/
- Ellensheng. (2020, February 25). This underfunded female demographic is launching the most start-ups in America, far from Silicon Valley. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/02/25/underfunded-female-demographic-is-launching-the-most-start-ups-in-us.html
- The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics). (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2020, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72
- Thompson, S. (2019, August 22). Despite Being the Most Educated, Black Women Earn Less Money at Work, in Entrepreneurship, and in Venture Capital. 3 Ways to Fix It. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/sonia-thompson/black-women-equal-pay-equity-how-to-make-progress.htm