American jobs are coming back, but not for everyone
JACKSON, Mississippi – As the Delta variant made its way through Mississippi this spring, Ashley Brown kept showing up at her elderly clients’ homes, packing their medications in pill boxes, sweeping their floors and washing their clothes.
Then she contracted Covid-19 in July, forcing her to quit her job for two weeks. She thought a negative test was her ticket for a paycheck. But her shifts were reassigned while she was in quarantine – and when she recovered, her job was gone.
Women of color like Brown, whose mother is white and father black, are often likely to have low-paying jobs like home care, which provides an essential service but lacks protections, including paid sick leave. and predictable hours.
In August, what had started for Brown as a two-week hiatus with no income threatened to spread indefinitely. The 24-year-old mother of four began filling out applications for fast food restaurants and a tool maker. But the early hours of the morning would make it almost impossible for her to organize childcare.
The career she had lost had been her best option.
“It’s the only job that works around my kids’ schedules,” she said.
More than a year after the recession caused by the country’s pandemic officially finished, Brown’s struggles in Carrollton, Mississippi, illustrate how the country’s economic recovery continues to be uneven according to racial and ethnic criteria.
Among the millions of unemployed Americans who looked for work in August, the outlook was particularly bleak for black workers, who were the only racial or ethnic group whose unemployment rate rose overall. About 9 percent of black men and 8 percent of black women were unemployed in August, an increase of about half a percentage point from July for both groups. The outlook was better for white men and women, who had the lowest unemployment rate of 4.5%.
The gap does not surprise economists. Even in better times, the country’s unemployment rate has been hampered by racial disparities.
William Darity, an economist at Duke University, pointed out that black unemployment has typically hovered between double the white unemployment rate since the federal government began tracking data by race.
“It has generally held up that way whether the economy is recovering or downtown,” he said. “As a result, there has never been much improvement in the black unemployment rate that brought it on par with the white unemployment rate. This applies regardless of the level of education.
When labor markets go through tough times, black workers are more likely to lose their jobs first, even taking years of work experience and skill level into account. In stronger economies, their employment rates remain below the national average. The persistence of this cycle has led some economists to wonder how racial prejudice can play a role.
“Discrimination occurs on many fronts,” said Kate Bahn, chief economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a nonprofit research group. “It happens in a downturn if you get laid off and then the degree to which hiring picks up, there could be discrimination in hiring as well. It would therefore disproportionately harm black workers. “
Being overrepresented in essential positions, like home help jobs, has also increased the vulnerability of black workers.
“They both face worse opportunities due to structural racism, as well as unique factors related to the pandemic that place them disproportionately at risk positions in response to the public health crisis and the economy. “Bahn said.
In August, the participation rate of black workers increased, indicating that more people were looking for work. Rising unemployment indicates that their demand for work has not been met.
“Just because you lost a job doesn’t mean you have one that matches your skills and pays you a salary you need to live on and that you could access,” said Kristen Broady, Metropolitan Fellow. Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy.
Unemployment in Carroll County, where Brown lives, sits just above the state average of 6 percent, while two of the four neighboring counties have unemployment rates of 8.1 percent and 12 , 2 percent.
Black workers face higher unemployment rates as safety nets are reduced, including the moratorium on recent evictions from the country hit by the Supreme Court and federal unemployment benefits. The result, according to Broady, is a precarious situation for workers in jobs without the possibility of telecommuting.
“Companies say they can’t find people to work, but you pay minimum wage. You do not provide any kind of protective equipment for workers. You don’t force customers to protect themselves. Children may or may not be in school depending on where they are, ”she said. “When you take away the benefits, people have to go back to these bad situations in some cases. “
Among those who have felt the pressure over the past year has been Chephirah Davis. She quit her job at a Dollar General in Mississippi last October, after being unable to take more than a few days, and sometimes hours, of work per week. Her days, she determined, would be better spent helping her 14-year-old daughter with online school.
She made money braiding her hair and her dad helped her with $ 150 each month, but she lacked the security of a full-time job and soon began to worry about how which she would afford the Internet necessary for her daughter’s work. If a client had to choose between paying her bills or a new hairdresser appointment, Davis knew where she would fall.
Some evenings she would try to cook a meal with packets of noodles.
“Sometimes I had to go out just to make sure I was still living in reality,” Davis said.
Relief came when she was accepted into a Jackson-based universal basic income program called the Magnolia Mother’s Trust, which provides $ 1,000 per month for one year to black mothers living in poverty. The participation allowed Davis to give her daughter an allowance and open a savings account for her. The 32-year-old dreams of one day owning her own hair salon, but still needs a steady income until it happens. In six months, the disbursements will end.
After seeing a hiring sign in the Burger King near her home for three months, she showed up for an interview. In July, she began training as a manager.
In Carrollton, as Brown waited for a response from her former home care employer, she focused on preparing her two older children, who are in pre-kindergarten and first grade, for the start of a new year. school. At the end of August, she finally got the call that new clients were available.
Her first check was for $ 355. The next one was $ 474, closer to what she brought home every two weeks, but her expenses are piling up. She leaves $ 25 every time she fuels her car to visit her customers, and her youngest children are 8 months and 2 years old and go through diapers and pull-ups quickly.
Many obstacles to stability remain. Brown is one of thousands of parents who Mississippi advocates say have lost a good which helps low-income families pay for child care costs. Previously, she was entitled to approximately $ 250 per week in assistance.
Brown said her certificate was taken from her after an eligibility check, when examiners claimed she failed to take steps to receive child support, a claim she denies. (Mississippi requires recipients to pursue payments to receive vouchers.)
For now, she is counting on a fragile arrangement offered by the center she attended as a child to pay what she can.
“I’m really trying to hold my head up and pray for the better,” she said. ” I am scared. I don’t want to go into a hole.