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
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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

It’s still the question on everyone’s minds: What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The $600-a-week payments have ended, officially, as of July 31. For now, there is no additional federal pandemic unemployment assistance. House Democrats want to renew the $600 payments. Senate Republicans have proposed giving the unemployed 70% of their most recent salary by this October, when state unemployment offices have had time to reconfigure their computer systems to do those calculations. Until then, jobless workers would just get another $200. But, nothing has been signed into law yet.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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