Essentials Stories Report Uncovers Challenges Faced by Black Workers During the Pandemic; Recommends Solutions for State Officials to Turn Around This Crisis
A report released today by the Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work, at the UCLA Labor Center, is the first large-scale study of Black workers in Southern California, which is home to 60% of the Black population in the state. The report documents the challenges faced by nearly 2,000 Black workers in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Diego counties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the report, Essential Stories: Black Worker COVID-19 Economic Health Impact Survey, workers sound the alarm on the economic restructuring being felt on the ground as a result of the pandemic that emerged in Southern California. With heightened unemployment, underemployment, and unsafe conditions for a workforce plagued by a long history of systemic racism, researchers find that it will take a decade to address these critical issues if state officials do not intervene promptly.
According to the study, close to 70% of Black workers who lost their jobs or were furloughed during the pandemic have not been called back to work. More than half of Black workers surveyed worked in essential or frontline sectors pre-pandemic. Through their stories shared in the report, Black workers conveyed essential needs that will allow them and their communities to weather this crisis.
“Disproportionate health, economic, and housing discrimination have converged into a restructuring that will cause further unemployment and underemployment for Black workers, unless California’s recovery plans specifically address their needs,” said Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, Director of CARE at Work. “It is important to remember that after the Great Recession, it took 13 years for Black unemployment to lower back to pre-recession levels. To have a prompt and meaningful economic recovery this time, Black workers need relief, resources, and programming tailored to their needs.”
The report finds that as Black workers have navigated overlapping economic and health crises during the pandemic, there has been insufficient systemic support available and accessible to them. 71% of on-site workers were concerned about COVID-19 exposure on the job. A third of workers reported uncertainty that they could afford food in the next month.
“Most workers reported low compliance with COVID-19 safety regulations at work, and only 20% were aware of the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health’s (Cal/OSHA) COVID-19 notification requirements,” said Déjà Thomas, Program Manager at CARE at Work. “On top of that, almost half of workers who experienced prejudice or discrimination at work during the pandemic were pushed out of their jobs.”
Meriel Anderson-McDade, who works as an employment placement coordinator for a community college, expressed her frustration about workplace discrimination that she experienced when she received an unwarranted poor performance evaluation by her supervisor during the pandemic. “My white colleagues, evaluated by the same supervisor, said they got a perfectly fine evaluation,” said Anderson-McDade. “A lot of times, you’re not valued because of the color of your skin.”
Researchers note that inadequate care infrastructure – both in the workplace and within local, state, and federal emergency support – has created a state of emergency for Black workers. A total of 90% percent of Black women surveyed had an increase in at-home and financial responsibilities during the pandemic, and many of their employers were inflexible in accommodating their needs.
“The Black workers we surveyed are facing high levels of stress,” said report author Demetria Murphy. “80% of Black workers rated their stress level as three or more on a scale of one to five. And what is even more concerning is that most Black women rated their stress level at a four or five.”
One Black worker who experienced undue stress from an inflexible employer is Shekinah Pitts, who shared her experience with erratic employment as an area manager for a food service company. “During the pandemic, I was furloughed – four months on, two months off. And then I was furloughed again for another four months,” said Pitts. “And [we] were forced to use our paid time off as opposed to being allowed to file for unemployment. So all my time that I had saved up, I had to use that first.”
In response to the concerns of Black workers surveyed in the report and a subsequent exhaustive research analysis, the report offers the following key recommendations:
In order for the current economic restructure to lead to an equitable recovery, researchers emphasize the importance of amplifying the voices of Black workers. These recommendations have been further summarized in the report in context of regional, state, and federal labor policies.