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Black Government Workers in COVID: Concerned but Optimistic

Although they reported more debt, financial concern and greater perceived health risks, Black American state and local government employees were overall more positive about their work during COVID-19, according to a report.

A Black woman working in an office.
(Rocketclips, Inc/Shutterstock)
Rocketclips, Inc./Shutterstock
A recent study from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (CSLGE) analyzed how COVID-19 has impacted public agency employees and it found that Black American workers often perceived COVID-19’s personal and financial impacts differently than other worker groups.

The survey found that Black government workers often had remarkably different perspectives on COVID-19’s financial and personal impacts as compared to the other racial groups. The findings are summarized in the CSLGE’s African American State and Local Employees Views on COVID-19 sub-report.

Black employees reported greater concern about the coronavirus’ financial impacts, specifically as it pertains to retirement, with 27 percent worried about COVID-19’s impacts on their abilities to retire when they want and to save enough to be financially stable throughout retirement, as compared to only 16 percent and 19 percent, respectively, of the other respondents.

A greater proportion of Black Americans also reported debt as either a major or minor problem (69 percent) and 41 percent had no emergency fund for major unexpected costs prior to the pandemic, both of which could exacerbate financial concern.

Black public-sector workers also identified a greater risk to their health than other respondents, with 28 percent worried about the potential exposure to infected people, 12 percent more than all other individuals. There was also a respective 17 percent and 16 percent increase in Black workers’ perceived risk about contracting the virus and keeping their family safe from the virus as compared to the other respondents.

And yet, despite all these worries, Black Americans generally responded more positively about working during COVID-19 than the other respondents. They reported feelings of gratitude and optimism and less reported feelings of anxiety, pessimism and burnout. This positive outlook could be a direct result of the workers’ heightened worries about financial and health risks during the pandemic.

CSLGE is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization that produces research to elucidate workplace issues and provide perspective for both policy leaders and the public. The Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19 study was conducted in May 2020 and surveyed 1,008 public-sector employees.

Zoe is the digital editor for Governing.
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