Survey: Michigan women of color harmed economically by COVID-19, 78% back stay-home order

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Two-thirds of women of color in Michigan have either lost their jobs or faced reduced work hours because of COVID-19, according to a survey released this week by Mothering Justice, a Michigan-based nonprofit advocacy group, and the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

“COVID-19 has exposed just how broken the system is,” said Danielle Atkinson, Mothering Justice executive director and founder. “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.”

In addition, more than half of those who are working on the front lines as essential workers feel unsafe returning to work. Moreover, most 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.

Mothering Justice and National Women’s Law Center commissioned the poll, which Vision Strategy and Insights conducted as an online survey from May 20 to June 4. A total of 600 women participated: 67% were African American, 33% Latino, 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, National Women’s Law Center president and CEO. “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.” 

Blacks make up 14% of Michigan’s population but have represented 33% of the state’s COVID-19-related cases and 40% of deaths. Browns make up 5% of the state’s population, comprise 8% of the overall COVID-19 cases and 2% of deaths.

Blacks are 40% of Michigan COVID-19 deaths. Officials want to know why.  

Among women of color in Michigan, two-thirds have been affected financially by COVID-19. Nearly half have either had their work hours cut (three in 10) or were furloughed from their job (two in 10), according to the survey. 

For these women and the one 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 three in 10 women of color who are classified as essential workers — a number that increases to four 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 women of color support changes to improve workplace safety and other workplace policies in response to COVID-19, but they also need safe childcare options.

Women of color strongly support post-COVID financial assistance and additional health care resources, including no-cost testing and treatment (eight in 10). 

Three-fourths fully support strengthened unemployment protections, additional direct cash payments, increased funding for childcare programs, increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and lower barriers to access support programs. Nearly eight in 10 respondents agreed that the next congressional 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 health care.

‘People of color want freedom … from infection, freedom from death’

Across the board, there was 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-home orders. 

In fact, 78% of all respondents said that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-home order was the “right thing to do.” Moreover, 95% of women of color voters aged 65 and older believed that the Whitmer order was the “right thing to do.”

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 and nail salons, bars and restaurants, or concerts and events. In fact, six in 10 said they want widespread testing and a flattened curve of cases before fully reopening the state.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.