Labor Constituency Groups Highlight Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Workers of Color
Washington DC.-The Labor Coalition for Community Action, which includes the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and Pride at Work, join forces to highlight the need to protect our nation’s workers, as they are the ones bearing the brunt from the global pandemic.
As businesses close, and our nation’s markets struggle to keep afloat, workers face an unavoidable sense of uncertainty. Nearly one in four workers are employed in industries that are inevitably being impacted by COVID-19, among them workers in retail and food services, two industries that account for 26 million jobs. Furthermore, there are an estimated 67 million workers who stand a good chance of losing their job.
Minorities endure even further economic disadvantages with an estimated 8% of Black and Hispanic workers earning below poverty level incomes, compared to just 4% of white workers. And while comparable disaggregated data is unavailable for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) low-wage workers, Micronesian, Burmese, Thai, Hmong, and Bangladeshi communities experience poverty at higher rates than other members within that community. These impacts compound even further when the worker also identifies as LGBTQ. The poverty rates for LGBTQ women, immigrants, and people of color are all higher than the national average.
COVID-19 has unveiled the inadequacy of this administration’s ruthless economic and immigration policies. Prior to the outbreak in the U.S., the administration implemented a new wealth test for immigrants, also known as the public charge rule, which has created fear among our communities that in seeking medical testing or treatment they could be jeopardizing their chances of being eligible for a green card. Moreover, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) excludes immigrants from free COVID-19 testing.
The economy inherited by the current administration had just bounced back from an historic recession. Immediately a tax break was implemented that exclusively favored the wealthy and exacerbated not only the wealth gap of this nation, but also the national debt. While this was being done, workers lost deductible items to file on their taxes, OSHA protections for workplace safety, and a stable market for their 401k’s. COVID-19 has shown that this country cannot function without workers in some of the most marginalized and exploited sectors. Janitorial staff, farm workers, hospital aides, supermarket employees, and other careers paid at minimum wage are now essential for the functioning of this society. They are essential for our survival and work under some of the worst conditions. These industries are also dominated by people of color, women, retirees, and members of the LGBTQ community.
To make matters worse, racism has aggravated the situation for many Americans and immigrants. For the past few weeks, our siblings in the Asian American community have endured racist and xenophobic attacks. The president and a number of elected and government officials have fueled these hateful sentiments by using COVID-19 as an excuse for racism. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) discourage associating diseases with geographic locations, cultural, population, industry or occupational references. Using “Chinese”, “China” or “Wuhan” in reference to COVID-19 only strengthens this false association, and harms Asian American and Asian-perceived communities across the country.
Furthermore, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes provisions that deny health care and economic assistance to immigrant workers. This segment of our population is at the frontline of the virus, with thousands of them working in agriculture, service and public health industries–to name a few. In order to effectively respond to this pandemic, we must ensure that every individual has access to the provisions granted by the FFCRA. Excluding any members our population weakens the effectiveness of this law.
Retired people and older workers are particularly vulnerable to severe respiratory illness from COVID-19. However, when over 25 million people aged 60+ are economically insecure, avoiding infection through social distancing or quarantine become extremely difficult. Like many working people, older workers are concerned about the stability of their current employment. Retirees who depend on pension funds have watched with alarm as the secure retirement they worked hard for has been underfunded year after year, and now need immediate relief more than ever.
LGBTQ working people will likely see a disproportionate impact as well. LGBTQ people have higher rates of smoking as well as cancer, and other immune-compromised conditions, which are risk factors with this disease. Additionally, LGBTQ working people are also more likely to be in low-wage and hourly jobs that are seeing massive layoffs and hour reductions. Due to discrimination by healthcare providers, LGBTQ people – especially those who are transgender and/or non-binary – may not seek out medical treatment they need during this pandemic.
For all of these workers, the importance of expanding the social safety net and other programs for workers are vital. The economic, social, and medical impacts of COVID-19 have thus far impacted communities across our globe. We must ensure that our response is inclusive and robust. This unprecedented pandemic has proven that the collective wellbeing depends on that of each and every individual regardless of age, immigration status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion.