Survey: Two-thirds of Michigan women of color harmed economically by COVID, majority still oppose full reopening

(Detroit, Michigan) Two thirds of women of color in Michigan have either lost their jobs or faced reduced work hours because of COVID-19. And of those who are working on the front lines as essential workers, more than half feel unsafe returning to work, according to a survey of women of color living in Michigan that was released today by Mothering Justice and the National Women’s Law Center. Most of the respondents with children feel uncomfortable sending kids back to school or daycare. The majority strongly oppose lifting safety restrictions, including stay-at-home orders before adequate COVID-19 testing, tracing, and a vaccine are widely available.

“COVID-19 has exposed just how broken the system is,” said Danielle Atkinson, executive director and founder of Mothering Justice. “Michigan’s women of color demand the federal and state government uphold their responsibility to those bearing the brunt of the pandemic — Black and brown women and mothers — by providing better access to health care, stronger workplace safety protections, and real financial assistance that squarely centers our needs.”

Mothering Justice and the National Women’s Law Center commissioned the poll, which Vision Strategy and Insights conducted as an online survey from May 20 to June 4, 2020. A total of 600 women participated: 67% were African American, 33% Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American, Middle Eastern and North African.

“The pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to women of color and their families in Michigan and across the country,” said Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). “But even before the coronavirus arrived, millions of women were struggling to make ends meet. Now as they face the double whammy of a national health crisis and a cratering economy, women of color are bearing the brunt of working front-line jobs that put them at high risk of Covid-19 exposure along with facing high unemployment rates. At this unprecedented moment, government officials must do much more to protect women of color and their families.”

Among the key findings:

Among women of color in Michigan, two thirds have been affected financially by COVID-19 and nearly half have either had their work hours cut (3 in 10) or were furloughed from their job (2 in 10). Frequently acting as the main breadwinner for their household, Black women in particular were already bearing much of the economic burden for their families, while representing a disproportionately large segment of low-wage service or frontline care workers. For these women and the 1 in 10 respondents who reported losing their job due to COVID-19, the out-of-control spread of the virus continuing across the country, combined with existing inequities in employment and the gender and racial wage gap, have left many Michigan women and families of color in dire financial circumstances.

Three quarters of essential workers were required to report to work, despite more than half not feeling safe doing so. For the 3 in 10 women of color who are classified as essential workers — a number that increases to 4 in 10 for households with children, with these parents primarily working in health care — they must choose between reporting to work or staying home to protect the health and safety of themselves and their family. Among non-essential workers, many faced a similar choice: only 37% of non-essential workers reported that they are able to work from home.

The majority of Michigan’s women of color support changes to improve workplace safety and other workplace policies in response to COVID-19, but they also need safe child care options. Priorities that received the most overall support included providing increased PPE and other basic supplies for front-line workers to be protected on the job and ensuring a safe, harassment and discrimination-free working environment. But without being able to safely and affordably find child care as schools remain closed or resume with rotating in-person schedules, women of color who are working parents are left in the lurch. Once schools closed, women of color who were parents found it difficult to find the time, equipment and resources to take over the education of their children. Still, more than half of parents were not at all comfortable sending their kids back to school, child care or other activities, with African American parents expressing the most discomfort.

Women of color strongly support post-COVID financial assistance and additional health care resources, including no-cost testing and treatment (8 in 10). Three fourths fully support strengthened unemployment protections, additional direct cash payments, increased funding for childcare programs, increases to SNAP and lower barriers to access support programs. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents agreed that the next relief package should benefit lower-wage workers and women in particular, as well as support increasing Medicaid coverage for pregnancy and better access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare.

Across the board, there was very little support for eliminating COVID-related safety restrictions among Michigan women of color, with Black women, registered voters and those in households with children especially likely to want to extend all restrictions and most strongly support continued stay at home orders. Overall, respondents showed some hesitancy to return to “normal” once restrictions are lifted. More than half did not feel at all comfortable returning to beauty/nail salons, bars/restaurants, or concerts/events. In fact, 6 in 10 said they want testing widely and a flattened curve before fully reopening the state.

The full report can be found here.