COVID-19

Lack of aid to states could hit Black and women workers hard

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 30, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A public transit worker cleans subway trains in New York City. State and local government budgets have been battered, and jobs are at risk. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Lack of aid to states could hit Black and women workers hard

Meghan McCarty Carino Jul 30, 2020
A public transit worker cleans subway trains in New York City. State and local government budgets have been battered, and jobs are at risk. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
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As Congress continues to hash out plans for the next relief package, it’s not clear whether aid is coming for state and local governments. Their budgets have been hit hard by declining tax revenue since the pandemic shut down parts of the economy and by increased demand for many social services.

States, unlike the federal government, generally can’t run deficits to cover their spending, so without an infusion of federal relief many could see cuts to services and employee layoffs. That would hit some groups especially hard because historically marginalized workers are overrepresented among public employees.

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, comes from a long line of public employees.

“My father, my mother were public-sector workers,” he said. “My dad was a city bus driver, and that was a way, back then when I was growing up in Cleveland, for African American families to move into the middle class.”

The mostly union jobs of the public sector provided solid wages, good benefits and a level of job security that was tough to find elsewhere. In the 1960s and ’70s, anti-discrimination and affirmative action policies boosted government employment of women and people of color, a trend that persists today. 

“The public sector disproportionately employs workers that have historically had more trouble in the labor market due to issues around discrimination,” said John Schmitt, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute.

Black and women workers are still overrepresented in state and local government jobs. Black workers make up 12% of all employees but 14% of state and local public employees. Women make up slightly less than half of all employees but 60% of state and local government employees.

The sector also serves as an important jobs pipeline for military veterans — 1 in 8 of whom currently work in local public service.

Major job cuts in the sector would affect those populations acutely. We already saw this play out during the Great Recession, when the sector shed almost 800,000 jobs, disproportionately those of Black and especially Black women workers. Those jobs were also slower to come back than jobs in the private sector.

“We never caught up again,” said Sylvia Allegretto, co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley. “So we have a huge gap.”

She said the lingering effects of those cuts to jobs and resources in local services like, say, public health departments, are now compounding our health and economic crises.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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