Black Americans Pay High Economic Price During Pandemic


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OAKLAND, CALIF. - The economic fallout from COVID-19 is upending the financial security of all demographics in the United States. But African Americans are especially feeling the pain.

Nearly 17% of black Americans are unemployed compared to 14% of white Americans.

In a survey in March and April, 44% of black Americans said someone in their household lost a job or experienced wage loss, compared with 38% of white Americans. And African Americans are less likely than other groups to have rainy day funds to cover expenses for three months.

"If you look at who is suffering the most in terms of health, who is suffering most in terms of unemployment, who are suffering most in terms of foreclosures and losing their business, it's going to be the black community," said Adam Briones, economic equity director at the Greenlining Institute, a think tank.

A hammer through a shattered window

Derreck Johnson operates Home of Chicken and Waffles restaurant in downtown Oakland. His employees, some of whom are parolees, are struggling to get financial assistance or backup jobs, as they wait for the 125-seat restaurant to reopen.

A candidate for Oakland city council, Johnson speaks frequently to other black business owners, some of whom haven't been able to get federal financial help.

"We already have so many injustices and disparities, this is just a hammer basically being thrown through already a shattered glass, and just putting it all to pieces," he said.

Chef AK, a caterer with Eat Play Events & Catering in Oakland, went from making up to $3,000 a day as a corporate caterer to $150 a day selling individual pre-ordered meals. The kitchen she uses was closed. She asked for $10,000 in federal help, and received $2,000.

Networks help

"It's absurd who the money went to compared to who they said it would go to," she said. "It's such as slap in the face."

Beyond financial help, tapping into networks that can help black business owners get back into business is also a struggle, says Carolyn Johnson, executive director of the East Oakland Black Cultural Zone.

"Lots of businesses have the right relationships," said Johnson. "You can call someone to say, 'Can you make sure when you get a truck of gloves or whatever, hook me up?' That helps. But again, if we're not networked and in those circles, and people don't think by giving your friend who is a business owner that box, who are you forgetting?"

As society begins to reopen, experts say the economic reverberations -- particularly for the African American community -- may be felt for years.