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African Americans Hit By Job Losses During The Pandemic Find It Hard To Recover

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Nat Thomas
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St. Louis Public Radio
The coronavirus pandemic has left more than 18 million Americans unemployed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate for white Americans was 9.2 percent in July. For Black Americans, it was 14.6 percent.

Robin Grinston’s world turned upside down in March when she had to shut down the massage therapy business she started two years ago.

She joined business owners throughout the St. Louis region and closed her doors to help keep the coronavirus from spreading.

Grinston, of Belleville, thought she’d only have to stop seeing clients for a short time.

“Months went by. I'm like, 'When are we going back to work?'” recalled Grinston, 31. “The whole time my landlord asking for money, you know. I'm like, ‘We're not working.’ Like how can we pay anything? At that point, I got into a deep depression.”

Like many African Americans across the country, she’s found that when the economy sputters, it hits Black people hard. The coronavirus pandemic, which has left more than 18 million Americans unemployed, has made it worse.

Just as the virus has shined a spotlight on disparities in the health care system, it’s also highlighted economic disparities.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the unemployment rate for white Americans was 9.2% in July. For African Americans, it was 14.6%.

Grinston has three children, and in a weakened economy, she’s gone months without income and limited financial support.

“When you're self-employed, you have to file for unemployment, and they will let you know if you're denied or not,” Grinston said. “They never told me nothing. So I tried to call the place, I never can get through.”

A recent study from the University of Chicago found that 13% of Black people out of work between April and June received unemployment checks, compared to 24% of white workers.

“What we're seeing now is really just a magnification of what's been there already,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. Gould and economist Valerie Wilson published a report in June on the economic inequality that the pandemic has exposed.

Even in states where Black and white people face similar challenges, African Americans have a much harder time recovering, Gould said.

“The jobs are returning faster for white workers than they are for black workers,” she said. “And importantly, Black workers have not had the same kind of safety net to weather that job loss that white workers have.”

About 42,200 African Americans in Missouri filed for unemployment in July, a drop of about 400 from June. About 114,000 white Missourians filed for unemployment in July, but more than 20,000 white Missourians who had been out of work the month before found jobs.

April 6, 2020 - The state of Missouri says more than 100,000 initial claims for unemployment came in during the last full week of March. The Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Division of Employment Security says 89,000 were COVID-19 related.
Nat Thomas
Unemployment numbers for Black and white Americans jumped drastically when the coronavirus hit the region in March. While unemployment numbers dropped for both groups in July, the unemployment rate gap between Black and White Americans grew. About 42,200 African Americans in Missouri filed for unemployment in July, a drop of about 400 from June. About 114,000 white Missourians filed for unemployment in July, but about 20,000 white Missourians who had been out of work the month before found jobs.

The suffering economy has affected multigenerational homes prevalent in African American communities. The report from the Economic Policy Institute shows African Americans are twice as likely to live in multigenerational homes. They include 64-year-old Patrice Greer, who lives in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis with her grandson, who helps pay rent. He was laid off from his job at Lambert International Airport in May and hasn’t found work yet.

“He actually helped with some of the financial issues in the home,” Greer said. “He, of course, eventually got unemployment. And so now we're kind of back on track.”

But some of Greer’s neighbors and friends are facing a more difficult reality.

“An elderly person like myself had to take off the time from work, not because she was infected with the virus but more because her employer gave her the option of locking down because she's a bit older,” Greer said. “She took that option for the virus, which meant she didn't have ways to pay her bills, either, or get food for her family.”

Organizations across the region have been helping people who lost their jobs. Better Family Life provides job training courses and programs including Skill Up. Students go through the multiweek training program to eventually return to the workforce at a sustainable income. One student, 39-year-old Natasha Franklin, was laid off her recruiting job for a paint company in March as the pandemic hit the region. She received unemployment benefits after she was initially denied.

“It helped, but it wasn't enough,” said Franklin, of St. Louis. “You have to figure out how you're gonna pay your car, note your mortgage, and nowadays though, it's a big adjustment.”

Black people likely will continue to shoulder a heavy burden during the pandemic, said Miranda Jones, the organization's vice president of youth, family and clinical services.

“I think right now and in the situation that we're in with, you know, African Americans in particularly the service jobs, the restaurants that are closing, the places that they traditionally have been able to go work,” Jones said. “With them being closed I just think we're really gonna see a skyrocket of unemployment that we've never seen before.”

Grinston hopes that things get back on track. She received a federal paycheck protection program loan to keep her office open and help her family. She started to see clients again in June, but her business isn’t what it was before.

“When it comes to my clients, you know, I try to make them feel comfortable,” Grinston said. “We're like family basically. So they reached out and was like 'Robin, we really want to come see you though we can't at this time, we’re afraid.'”

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

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