(TNS) — Leah Taylor loved her job as a bartender at California's Oakland International Airport. The pay was great, and she got to be a counselor and confidant for travelers scared of flying or heading to family funerals. But now, almost four months after the COVID-19 pandemic obliterated air travel and Taylor was laid off, she’s focused on trying to stay afloat.
“It was super hard to afford living here when people had jobs,” she said. “It’s a whole other level now.”
Taylor highlights a troubling trend among Black, Latinx and immigrant women, who have seen their jobs vanish at much higher rates during the coronavirus induced recession than their male counterparts.
Taylor, an Oakland resident, has been a bartender for about 19 years, the past six of those at the airport. She needs multiple medications for her asthma, which has only grown worse over time. Her free COBRA coverage through Unite Here Local 2850 expires at the end of July, and she doesn’t know how she’ll afford food, rent, her medicine and health coverage with just her unemployment checks.
“I’m really praying we can get back to work soon because I’m going to be in a terrible position if I don’t have medical coverage,” she said. “I cannot be without my medicine.”
Between March and May, the number of Black women working in California declined 23 percent from the previous three-month period, while the number of Latinx women working dropped 22 percent, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the California Budget & Policy Center. That’s nearly twice the rate of Black and Latinx men and more than three times the rate of white men.
Among white women, employment declined by 10 percent, and white men experienced the smallest drop of any group at 7 percent. Among immigrant workers, more women than men stopped working. Only Asian and Pacific Islander men had a larger decline than their female counterparts.
“This is really amplifying existing inequalities, especially racial and ethnic inequities,” said Alissa Anderson, a senior budget analyst at the center and the author of the unemployment report. “The impact is much greater because other data has shown us Black and Latinx families are only half as likely as white families to have savings to support themselves if they go without work for a few months.”
Anderson said there are multiple reasons unemployment has hit Black and Latinx women harder. They are more often the ones in a family to sacrifice their jobs to care for children — Anderson said she’s had to scale back to 20 hours a week to take on more child care amid school closure during the pandemic. She said there could be discrimination at play when employers are deciding who to lay off, although that’s harder to prove on a wide scale.
But the most important factor may be the jobs where many Black and Latinx women work: hospitality, food service and other low-paying industries. Those sectors made up two-thirds of all the jobs lost in California.
For Taylor, her layoff came after years of working hard to save money and build up her credit score. She was weeks away from signing the paperwork to buy her childhood home in Oakland when she was laid off. For now, she’s been managing with the $600 a week boost to unemployment insurance from the federal government, but that is set to end later this month.
“Once the extra help is over, I’m not going to be able to pay my bills,” said Taylor, who lives with roommates in Oakland. “If I’m not going to be even able to pay my bills, then how am I even going to put food in the refrigerator?”
The pending expiration of additional federal unemployment payments — as well as provisions that expanded who was eligible for payments through the end of the year — has created a pressing problem for workers who have now been unemployed for almost four months.
“Maintaining expanded unemployment insurance coverage and the top-up of UI payments would help Black communities weather this crisis better,” Ellora Derenoncourt, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at UC Berkeley, said in an email.
Taylor, who has been having her nieces and nephews over for dinner a couple of times a week so her siblings can get some rest, said she’s particularly worried about single mothers who were already struggling to make ends meet.
Ana Ticas knows what that’s like. Until recently, the single mother had been working more than 70 hours a week at two Oakland hotels, primarily as a housekeeper as well as on the banquet staff. Ticas, who is Salvadoran and has a 14-year-old daughter, said she was furloughed on March 15, and eventually laid off.
“The situation is complicated,” Ticas said. “We’ve had to survive these three to four months with savings.”
But her savings and $1,200 in pandemic assistance from the federal government earlier this year are starting to run out and she has no idea when she might be able to get back to work. She’s now part of a campaign asking the Oakland City Council to pass a right to return to work ordinance that would give laid-off workers the chance to go back to their old jobs if those companies begin rehiring.
“I need my job,” she said. “That’s how I live, how I take care of my daughter.”
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.