The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent unemployment crisis has affected Black communities quite drastically. Black workers are disproportionately represented in jobs that undervalue our work and underpay us, and therefore Black workers are often unable to cover basic necessities and rarely save for emergencies. Due to structurally racist barriers to employment, Black workers in particular were still in recovery from the last recession long after a large part of the economy had stabilized.
Washington, DC, in particular, has boasted for a few years now that it has one of the strongest economies in the U.S. Commentary and reports about the strength of an economy frequently exclude Black workers from that data story. Before the pandemic, the Black unemployment rate has been consistently high throughout the U.S. In particular, the Black unemployment rate in pre-pandemic Washington, DC was 11.2%. It was the highest in the country. With the pandemic now devastating the U.S. economy, the unemployment rate for Black workers was last reported to be 16.8%. This data complements the lived experience of Black workers in DC.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S., the National Employment Law Project in partnership with ONE DC and its Black Worker and Wellness Center, held its first Black Worker Listening Session (BWLS) on unemployment compensation and unemployment in the District. The BWLS was a space to hear from Black workers about their experience with unemployment and the unemployment compensation system in DC; how it has impacted them, their families, and community; and how they think an unemployment compensation program should be structured and function. After follow up conversations between some of the BWLS participants, they decided to share their expertise as Black workers in DC and how employment status, income, and access to resources are shaped by systems and supporting harmful narratives both during “normal times” and the COVID-10 pandemic.
Alica, Breanna, Diego, and Leonard are Black workers in DC of varying ages, gender, employment, backgrounds, and experiences. These stories are shared for many reasons. It is shared because of the beauty and power of storytelling. It is shared to connect with other Black workers because we have all been deeply impacted by a racist economic structure. Our stories are also an offering to those involved in the work to support Black workers. All of our voices are coming forward. We are Black workers.
Option for other workers to share their story: [Something like this could be posted at the end. I saw Black Futures Lab using this app. Download the Cinebody app on your phone (https://bit.ly/2D1v8wd). Cinebody is the tool we use to collect stories from our community. It’s free to download and easy to use.]
We would love for other Black workers to share their stories, their dreams and visions for the future of Black workers. Write down your story or record a short selfie-style video sharing your story and send it to us so we can tell the larger story of Black workers in this country.
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