An equitable recovery: Moving beyond a return to status quo
By Aaron Hirsh for the Fund for Our Economic Future, with Phoebe Lee, Civic Board Member of the Fund and CEO of Acumen Industries
The conversation about the economy and the labor force over the last few months has been all about recovery. How do we get back to where we were? But that’s the wrong question to be asking. A strong economic rebound creates an economy that is better than it was before; more prosperous, more innovative and, critically, more equitable.
The picture of economic inequity is particularly stark in the case of Black women. In this post, we will consider how this group has fared both prior to and during the pandemic and how their experience can push us to think about a recovery that goes beyond just a return to baseline.
Black women have historically faced enormous disadvantages in the labor market. Nationally, Black women earn 63% of what white men make and have also consistently made less than white women. Compounding these challenges are a disproportionate concentration of Black women in low paying service sector jobs that lack benefits and opportunities for advancement and are susceptible to volatility in the labor market. In addition, Black women face barriers that are not captured in statistics. Phoebe Lee, CEO of Cleveland-based uniform company Acumen Industries, put it this way: “From entry-level up to executives, we’re never comfortable. We can’t show up as who we are. We are told we can’t wear braids or hoop earrings. I’m an owner and a boss and I still feel like I have to code-switch and show up to make other people comfortable.”
Northeast Ohio is no exception to these inequities. In fact, research from the Bloomberg City Lab suggests that on dimensions of income, health, and education, Cleveland is the hardest place in the country to be a Black woman.
If we are concerned about an equitable economic recovery, we need to ask how this group in particular is faring in our current labor market.
Let’s start with some data. The chart below shows the national labor force participation rate for Black and white women since January 2019. The Labor Force Participation rate measures the percentage of a given population that is either working or is actively looking for work.