2020 Was a Disaster for Black Immigrant and Women-Led Households. Fixing This Should Be Top Priority in 2021

With mere days until Joe Biden’s inauguration, where Kamala Harris—a Black woman and daughter of immigrants—will stand as his number two, it’s time for some big action in favor of Black women and Black immigrants.

2020 Was a Disaster for Black Immigrant and Women-Led Households. Fixing This Should Be Top Priority in 2021
Over the next several months, economic recovery plans must be centered on the needs of Black women. (Johnny Silvercloud / Flickr)

As the world watched the riots on Capitol Hill and their aftermath, many may have missed a chilling new report released on Jan. 8, which showed that in December 2020, 140,000 jobs were lost across the U.S.

Even more troubling, the report found that Black women and Latina women accounted for most of the losses, and women in general accounted for all the job losses—with women losing 156,000 jobs and men gaining 16,000. 

Over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted working Black women’s economic precarity resulting from their occupational segregation into domestic work, retail, service and other low-wage industries. 2020 has highlighted the economic disasters that Black women face, and 2021 should be dedicated to fixing it.

Three in four Black mothers are breadwinners for their families—more than mothers of any other race. It’s easy to see how job losses for African American and Black immigrant women may have a more severe impact on the growing wealth gap between white and Black households. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Black women peaked in August at 11.8 percent—the highest rate among working women in all of 2020. And although Black workers are more likely to be permanently laid off during the pandemic, they are less likely to receive unemployment benefits.

Black Women Methodically Excluded From Receiving Government Assistance

Throughout U.S. history, Black women have methodically been excluded from receiving cash assistance from the government—a trend that continued as federal COVID-19 relief packages were rolled out earlier last year.

So far, the relief packages that have passed have favored employers, who are overwhelmingly not Black women. Also, the CARES Act relief excluded 14 million people who are either without lawful work status, or U.S. citizen and permanent residents who are part of mixed-status households with a parent, spouse or child who is undocumented. 

This means that for millions of Black immigrants who may have someone with unauthorized work status in their household, there has been no financial relief since the pandemic first distressed the economy. A study of over 800 Black immigrant domestic workers in May 2020 also found that while 70 percent reported job loss due to the pandemic, effectively half the people surveyed would not consider government assistance due to fear of adverse action from immigration authorities.

Black immigrants, who make up just 1.3 percent of the U.S. population, have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in the health care, childcare and food supply industries. Black immigrants represent 9.4 percent of health aides in the country. Health aides and other healthcare workers have been in high demand though severely underpaid and unprotected throughout the pandemic. Still, long-term care facilities with primarily Black and Latinx residents and workers have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

This needs fixing—now.


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Looking Forward: A Much-Needed Reckoning

One thing is clear after the Capitol riots: A reckoning has started. Trumpism has been disavowed by several members of his own party and a diverse coalition of voters, led by Black women has risked nearly everything to get the perfect governing scenario for the incoming Democrat administration.

With mere days until Joe Biden’s inauguration, where Kamala Harris—a Black woman and daughter of immigrants—will stand as his number two, it’s time for some big action in favor of Black women and Black immigrants.

2020 Was a Disaster for Black Immigrant and Women-Led Households. Fixing This Should Be Top Priority in 2021
For millions of Black immigrants who may have someone with unauthorized work status in their household, there has been no financial relief since the pandemic first distressed the economy. (Solidarity Center / Flickr)

In 2021, we have to raise the federal minimum wage to at least $15 per hour. Black women currently earn about 61 cents of every dollar earned by white men. Without a drastic increase in the federal minimum wage, there is virtually no chance to narrow this gap.

It’s been over a decade since the minimum wage was set at the poverty wage of $7.25 per hour. It’s left to be seen whether the election of Reverent Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff will be enough to move something like the Raise the Wage Act through both houses of Congress and onto the lawbooks. 

Over the next several months, economic recovery plans must also be centered on the needs of Black women. There is already some hope in the nomination of renowned African American economist, Cecilia Rouse, to lead Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, a group that will advise the president on rebuilding the economy.

Whatever relief is doled out from D.C. should ensure that mixed-status families are included in cash assistance, and provide more regulations to ensure that any unemployment insurance actually reaches Black unemployed workers. This would likely require more or stricter monitoring of discrimination carried out by state agencies.

Finally, since we are still in a pandemic, we need a stronger health care system—and we needed it yesterday. Joe Biden ran for president with a health care platform that promised a public-insurance program “like Medicare” and increased access to coverage for people in states where Medicaid expansion has been blocked. If this all comes to be, great, and it shouldn’t end there.

Biden should also work quickly to make good on his commitment to the home-care industry including long-term care, where Black women of all nationalities are overrepresented. Advocates for Universal Family Care, Josephine Kalipeni and Julie Kashen summarized it well when they wrote that “investing in a robust care infrastructure…is not only critical to a racially just and equitable economic recovery but is also key to building a pathway forward that is sustainable for all families.”

2020 Was a Disaster for Black Immigrant and Women-Led Households. Fixing This Should Be Top Priority in 2021
There’s a lot that employers can do to ensure Black women have equal pay and job security. (Pxhere / Creative Commons)

This is only some of what needs to be happen to slow the disastrous economic decline facing Black women in the U.S. There’s also a lot more that employers can do to ensure Black women have equal pay and job security.

In the next year, employers should address—and then end—the disposability of Black women’s labor.

They should also increase Black women in the highest levels of their organizations to ensure that the imagination of “where Black women fit” is drastically expanded.

Black communist and foremother of womanism, Claudia Jones, wrote in 1949 “where consciousness of the special role of Negro women exists, successful struggle can be initiated which will win the support of white workers.” In other words, when we solve for Black women, we solve for everyone.

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About

Aimée-Josiane Twagirumukiza is a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project and the Director of Organizing at the National Domestic Workers Alliance. They are also a founding member of the National LGBTQ Worker Project and live in East Point, GA with their wife and cat.