How systemic biases make the pandemic worse for women of color

By Jackalyn Carione

The pandemic has affected every individual in some way or form, but women of color have been particularly hit hard by its negative consequences. Prior to this fatal virus, women of color were already disproportionally affected by the systems that exist in the United States. Now they are faced with even more burdens with no end in sight.

Women, in general, bear most of the child care responsibilities at home, so women who have full or part-time work are in an unprecedented challenge of taking care of children at home while working simultaneously. The Hawai‛i Commission on the Status of Women conducted a state survey that found nearly 90% of single mothers surveyed were struggling to balance work and caregiving.

On the other side of things, women of color are experiencing job loss and unemployment at disproportionately high rates. Based on a study done in August, 57.1% of Hispanic women and 53.6% of Black women say they lost income since March. This is extremely troublesome when a Center for American Progress analysis found that 67.5 percent of Black mothers and 41.4 percent of Latina mothers were the primary or sole breadwinners for their families, compared with 37 percent of white mothers. Women of color in the child care industry has been especially affected by the pandemic. 93% of child care workers are women and 45% are Black, Asian, or Hispanic. Even if you do not work in child care, the lack of child care available has also caused a rise in unemployment for women of color.  Research shows that women are more likely than men to leave the labor market or to consider quitting so that they can take care of their children at home. Black and Hispanic communities have fewer resources to pay for child care and have fewer child care options due to so many providers closing throughout the pandemic. Because female-dominated job sectors such as child care, teaching, leisure, and hospitality are the most severely impacted by the pandemic, women are facing higher levels of unemployment.

In Hawaiʻi, this trend is especially concerning because of the massive tourism industry present here and Hawaiʻi’s strict COVID-19 regulations. In April, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice reported that nearly two-thirds of Hawai‛i’s frontline workers are made up of women but are most likely to get laid off because their positions lie in industries like retail, food service, and child care. 69.6% of frontline workers are Asian-American/Pacific Islander. The state’s restrictions have kept infection levels comparatively low, but insufficient government support has left these women and their families vulnerable to a lack of healthcare, child care, food security, and housing stability. According to a study by the National Women’s Law Center, 1 in 6 Black and Hispanic women reported not having enough food in August, and nearly a quarter of Black women and just over 15% of Hispanic women said they’re behind in rent payment.In Hawai‛i, based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey taken in June, 56% of households were dealing with income loss. Between April and July, 44,000 more women than men claimed unemployment, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

The pandemic does not discriminate; however, the systems that exist in our country have racial, gender, ethnic and other biases. These systems have been discriminating against women of color for centuries, and now in the height of a global crisis, they are facing the most extreme consequences. Women of color have long faced disparities and discrimination in healthcare, which is reflected in every COVID-19 case and fatality. The state Department of Health is still collecting COVID-19 data on race, ethnicity and gender but the largest disparity found so far is that as of October, non-Hawaiian Pacific Islanders make up 27% of the state’s coronavirus cases when they make up only 4% of the state’s population.

Women of color are not a statistic in a report; they are human lives being lost and affected every single day. It is no longer time to sit back and let inequity continue in our nation. The pandemic doesn’t have to halt the progress our society had made in moving towards equity. It should be an opportunity to rethink and improve the systems that have marginalized women of color. At the state and federal levels, we need to work together and help push our legislators to pass policies like paid family leave, paid sick leave, a living wage, enforced anti-discrimination laws, more accessible healthcare, and greater access to training and employment programs.

The Working Families Coalition (WFC) is actively advocating for policies like these and pushing the state government to use funds from the CARES Act to help women of color get the relief they need during this pandemic. If you’d like to join the WFC, visit their website here. If you are looking for COVID-19 resources, visit our Hawaiʻi COVID-19 resource map. Our HCAN team hopes you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy.






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