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Facing a Crossroad: COVID-19 and Racial Injustice

Where the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing Black Lives Matter movement intersect, there is a common undercurrent: black and brown communities are disproportionally impacted in both.  

When stepping back from the health implications piece of COVID-19 to look at the economic impact and other considerations for business decision makers, a compelling story is revealed through a specific set of data points: job loss and job recovery.

Let’s take a look at some of the numbers.

Recent data shows that the national unemployment rate in June dropped to 11.1% from 13.3% in May. This shows a steady decline since the height of the pandemic in April, when the national unemployment rate sat at 14.7%. On the surface, this is good news.

However, when digging a little deeper, racial disparities reveal themselves (all data as of June 2020 from ProPublica):

  • Despite the national average resting at 11%, the unemployment rate for white workers is 9% while the unemployment rate for black professionals is 15%
  • People with college degrees fare much better in employment crises. The average unemployment rate for all workers with a college degree is 8%. Yet, when you pare that down between race, we find that white workers with a college degree sit at a 7% rate compared to black workers at 10%.
  • The unemployment rate for white workers with only a high school diploma is on pace with the national average, 11%. But this number increases substantially for black workers with only a high school degree, coming in at an 18% unemployment rate.

This illustrates how coronavirus’ effects on the economy are amplifying inequalities between those with higher education and those without. As one expert pointed out, the numbers are “laying bare” class and racial disparities that already existed because the preference for college degrees further widens the racial gap: 78% of college graduates are white.

Part of the problem is that even before such dire times, black Americans were not starting on equal footing. At the beginning of 2020 when the economy was at peak prosperity, the unemployment rate for black workers was still double that of their white counterparts.

People of color already had to fight uphill battles to secure jobs due to racial discrimination. When you couple those existing issues with a pandemic draining health and financial resources to fight the virus, what’s left are minority communities being disproportionally upended. 

To further illustrate just how differently COVID-19 is impacting minority communities, we can tell the story through another set of data points.

The coronavirus has exposed a wide gap in disease prevention and treatment that separates white communities from communities of color. Data experts have found reporting holes and disparities when it comes to COVID-19 cases and demographics:  

  • Oregon has reported race data for 83% of cases. Black people make up 2% of the state’s population but 5% of cases.
  • Washington has reported race data for 67% of cases. Black people make up 4% of the population and 5% of cases. Moreover, Latinos make up 14% of the population but an alarming 44% of cases.
  • Idaho has reported race data for 66% of cases. Black people make up less than 1% of the population but account for 2% of COVID-19 cases.
  • In Hawaii, the story is slightly different – the state reports racial data in cases but does not report at all for deaths. It is flagged as a state in need of better data. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders makeup 10% of the population but 39% of cases.
  • Montana is also flagged for not reporting race data for deaths. In the cases where race data is reported, we see a gap within the American Indian community, which makes up 6% of the population yet 15% of cases.
  • Alaska has reported race data for 66% of cases. Similar to Hawaii, the racial disparities do not reflect Black people, but rather Pacific Islanders who make up 1% of the population and 5% of COVID-19 cases.

Experts assert that this lack of uniform and consistent reporting across states disguises what’s really going on in within minority, particularly black, communities, further marginalizing non-white neighborhoods.

Those data discrepancies have a direct impact on virus confinement strategy – dictating the provisions our most vulnerable communities receive, such as testing, contact-tracing, medical supplies, and preparedness resources. Without proper resources to confine the virus, how will these neighborhoods ever recover financially and improve employment? The answer: It will take longer, and our communities of color will suffer for it.

With this information in tow, what are some things small business owners may want to consider implementing or prioritizing in their own best practices? Here are a few

  • Educate yourself and encourage your staff to learn about how systemic racism works –

Give yourself and your employees time if they want to read an article or attend a webinar.

  • Work with your HR team to create diversity and inclusion programs – Listen to your minority staff members, especially black and brown employees, about what they want to see.
  • Keep your staff safe – That means doing your best to accurately track and report COVID cases that might have happened in your office or job site.
  • Expand your hiring practices – How does your diversity report look? If you’re a business comprised of mostly white employees, form strategies to change this. Data shows that an eclectic and diverse staff truly makes a business more profitable.

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Written by Danielle Kane

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