On April 23, Joint Center President Spencer Overton participated in a Virtual Press Conference hosted by Black Voters Matter responding to plans by Southern Governors to open their economies despite the continued threat of the coronavirus in their states.
Spencer pointed out that 55% of African Americans live in the South, and that they are hit hard by COVID-19. For example, African Americans make up:
- 32% of Georgia’s population, but 54% of Georgia’s COVID-19 deaths
- 38% of Mississippi’s population, but 65% of COVID-19 deaths
Opening the economy prematurely could make these matters worse. African Americans are already overrepresented in many “essential positions” that have close contact with the public–like nursing assistants, cooks & restaurant workers, and workers in grocery stores, convenience stores, drug stores, transportation, trucking, warehouses, the postal service, and at places like Amazon (26.5% of workers) and Walmart (21% of workers).
Historically the South has focused on profiting off of African American low-wage or no-wage labor rather than investing in Black lives, and opening the economy prematurely would only continue that tradition.
To be sure, African Americans are also hit hard economically by the stay in place order. A McKinsey & Co. report shows that 39% of Black workers that are vulnerable to furloughs, layoffs, or being rendered unproductive during periods of high physical distancing. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that only 19.7% of Black workers can telework. McKinsey also notes that 40% of the revenues of black-owned businesses are located in the five most vulnerable sectors—including leisure, hospitality, and retail.
The answer, however, is not to jeopardize Black health, but to more robustly address these economic issues through the next federal stimulus package.
The Joint Center also signed on in support of the solutions articulated by Black Voters Matter, which include:
- An immediate recension of the reopening of our states and reinstatement of shelter-in-place orders
- Safety plans for each state before they reopen that includes resources for PPEs for workers
- Realtime COVID-19 data disaggregated by county and race
- Increased public health model testing, tracing, and treatment, with specific support to communities that are low-income and communities of color
- The immediate expansion of Medicaid in each of our states
- Enhanced unemployment support for residents that have lost jobs or cannot work
Watch the full press conference here: