Just over one month ago, minorities and women were experiencing historically-low unemployment rates. Fast forward and over just the past six weeks, a staggering 35 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, a sharp turnabout triggered by government-mandated shelter-in-place orders and business closures.
Both blue-collar workers (such as restaurant servers, mall cashiers, and hotel workers) and white-collar workers (including lawyers, architects, and graphic designers) have been impacted.
Black workers have been hit particularly hard in office support, hospitality, and retail sectors where they are concentrated.
This backslide threatens to erase gains they’ve made over the past few years.
Women-led small businesses –– a success story coming out of the recent recession—also teeter on the edge of collapse.
As if uncertainty about where your next paycheck will come from weren’t enough, black women specifically have compounded health concerns about contracting the novel coronavirus.
Blacks suffer from higher COVID-19 infection and death rates than any other race according to data released by states and counties.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, explained that black Americans are not more susceptible to getting infected, but that pre-existing conditions prevalent within the black community such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and asthma, were associated with worse outcomes.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams put a face on how widespread this issue is among black Americans when he unexpectedly revealed how his own health issues place him at greater risk despite being fit.
A whopping 60 percent of black women are considered obese.
They battle disproportionately with the same pre-existing conditions that were prevalent among almost all of the thousands of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the New York City area.
Understandably, black women are worried about the dual concerns of economic hardship and elevated health risks during this crisis.
Washington has attempted to ease the financial strain through measures in its stimulus packages including one-time $1,200 payments to many adults, expanding the unemployment insurance program, providing paid sick leave to workers, and extending loans to small businesses for payroll.
But this short-term aid was tangled up for weeks in partisan wrangling and bureaucratic red tape.
Fortunately, real and more immediate relief has come from private philanthropy which has delivered millions of meals to school children, provided rent payments to unemployed workers, and granted billions to research institutions for the development of coronavirus treatments.
Community foundations in all 50 states have marshaled at least $536.6 million from individuals, companies, and foundations to support COVID-19 relief efforts across the country.
While ample attention has been focused on giving by celebrities, athletes, and business leaders, regular Americans have also dug into their wallets and savings to give to churches, charities, and peer-to-peer social media platforms for economic relief efforts.
Some Americans are even giving away part or all of their stimulus payments.
Private giving during the crisis is important, but perhaps most promising to the hard-hit black community are the philanthropic contributions made over the long term to improve our health and provide more economic opportunity.
In 2018, contributions to the health sector totaled $40.78 billion comprising 10 percent of total giving in America. Organizations such as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation have contributed more than $2 billion to Type 1 diabetes research and are funding 70 clinical trials for drugs, biologics, and devices to cure or prevent Type 1 diabetes.
One drug being developed could delay, for an average of two years, the onset of this disease in adults and children.
Given that black women are disproportionally affected by conditions like diabetes, these significant investments could extend the lives of black women and help them to lead healthier, fuller lives.
In the arena of workforce development, the historically black college Howard University received $10 million, the largest gift in its 150-year history, from the California-based Karsh Family Foundation to fund scholarships for students to pursue Science Technology Engineering and Math careers.
Black students are underrepresented in these majors, but these majors offer high-paying job opportunities which can boost earnings potential for future generations of black students.
As has always been the case in America, private giving has the incredible impact and important role of addressing both long-term and short-term challenges for all Americans.
Addressing the challenges faced by black women have been no different.
At a time when black women are some of the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of coronavirus, it is good to stop and acknowledge the resources we do have on our side.