With the District on the eve of our first budget vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important for us to step back and reflect on the disparate impacts the virus is having--not just on our health--but also on families’ economic security. As with most crises, without conscious action it’s likely that the families harmed the most will be the same ones who have already been marginalized, including families of color and those with members who are undocumented, making it more important than ever that the Council pass a racially just budget.
While overflowing intensive care units and morgues in New York, Detroit, Houston, and elsewhere have made it painfully clear that DC was right to shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, that decision still came at a high cost, especially for DC families with children. As DC cautiously re-opens, it’s clear that, even if testing, contact tracing, mask usage, and other precautions mean we avoid the surge in cases currently afflicting other parts of the country, the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are going to continue – and continue to have a disparate impact.
A Census Pulse survey given between June 18 and 23 helps quantify the scope of the issue. Half of households with children reported a loss of employment income since March 13, while less than one-third of households without children reported the same. This disparity raises concerns about whether families with children will be able to meet their basic needs. The same survey shows that 31% of DC households with children said they have no or only slight confidence in their ability to make next month’s rent or were deferring their payment, compared to only 7% of renters without children. Homeowners both with and without children were more confident than renters with children in their ability to make next month’s mortgage payment.
Just as DC’s Latinx and Black residents are bearing the disproportionate burden of being more likely to get and die from COVID-19, respectively, they are also bearing the brunt of the economic costs. While we don’t have numbers by race specifically for families with children, just over one in five (22%) white DC residents experienced a loss of household employment income since March 13, but almost two in five (37%) Latinx DC residents, and more than half (53%) of Black DC residents experienced a loss of household employment income. Youth of color are more likely than their white peers to be affected as well. In the greater DC region, Black and Latino youth disproportionately work in industries where employment has been impacted by COVID. There are gaps in housing security as well. While only 1% of white DC homeowners and 4% of white DC renters had no or slight confidence in their ability to pay next month’s housing payment (or were deferring payment), 21% and 22% of DC’s Black residents could say the same about their mortgage and rent, respectively, and for DC’s Latinx residents the rates were 3% and 13%.
Another pending crisis for families is child care. With early childhood care and education providers shut down or at limited capacity during the pandemic, DC stands to lose more than 6,500 child care slots as providers go out of business, making pandemic recovery even harder for families and disproportionately impacting women of color, who constitute the majority of this workforce.
Rent and child care are month-to-month expenses, but a more immediate need for children is food. The majority (55%) of DC households with children said that they were not at all or only somewhat confident about being able to afford food for the next four weeks. With food security, too, there were major racial disparities. While only 1% of DC’s white households with children reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the last week, 28% of Black households with children and 42% of Latinx households with children said the same.
With tourism, dining, transportation, arts and more limited around the world it’s clear that DC’s economy can’t make a full recovery in the immediate future. That leaves us with the obligation to ensure that our children and families of color don’t continue to bear the brunt of that burden. One way to do that is through funding for housing, food, and other basic needs. Another is by stabilizing employment in industries primarily staffed by people of color, including by providing emergency relief for child care providers and support for workers so far excluded from relief (those in the informal cash economy). As the DC Council makes tough decisions about the next budget, we ask that they prioritize the needs of the children and families who have been most affected.