One year ago, households across America were preparing for the worst. Unemployment claims went through the roof as “nonessential” and blue-collar workers found themselves without jobs; many small business owners realized they couldn’t keep the lights on and still make payroll; extended family began cohabiting to save on housing costs.
But it’s a year later and the fallout wasn’t as bad, for many, as 2020 led us to believe. Even the state received some good news — The Denver Post reported last week that Colorado’s budget writers “believe the state has averted long-term economic ruin.
“... A fuller picture won’t be available until March 19, during economists’ quarterly update, but Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno told The Denver Post: ‘It’s nothing that we could have expected.’’’
Nobody knew what to expect 365 days ago — but one thing is growing clearer: Many who faced socioeconomic hurdles to wealth before the pandemic are still reeling today.
Consider this from The New York Times: “As a proportion of their employment levels before the pandemic, significantly fewer Black and Hispanic women are working now than any other demographic, according to the latest government data — and women are lagging behind men across race and ethnicity.”
Also from The Times: “No demographic has returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, but significant differences remain. There are nearly 10 percent fewer employed Black women than a year ago, but only 5 percent fewer employed white men.”
There’s more. The results of a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found more than four in 10 Americans say they’re still feeling the impact from job loss or lost income within their household due to impacts from COVID-19.
The poll found approximately half of Americans say they’ve experienced at least one form of household income loss during the past year. Twenty-five percent have experienced a household layoff and 31 percent say someone in the household saw a reduction in available work hours.
Many lower-income workers, often younger Americans and people of color, lost jobs as a direct result of the pandemic. In other words, through no fault of their own.
The disparities related to the recovery are alarming, especially for Hispanics — nearly 40 percent said they experienced a layoff in their household over the past year. That’s compared to 29 percent of Black Americans and nearly twice the rate of white Americans.
As for younger populations, Millennials and Gen Zers had already fallen behind in accumulating wealth compared to previous generations at the same age due to student loan debt and skyrocketing housing costs.
Those still struggling to get by create a drag on the economy as a whole, negatively impacting public safety nets, education systems, real estate markets and, on a micro level, making communities less desirable for job-creating new businesses to locate there. Locally, long-term solutions will only come about when we address our very real affordable housing challenges and ensure that full-time workers earn a livable wage.
The pandemic has brought to light economic disparities that existed before COVID-19. We shouldn’t wait until the next time everything falls apart to address them.