The way back: Assessing economic recovery among Black Americans during COVID-19

While all Americans, regardless of socioeconomic background, have been affected by COVID-19, Black Americans from economically disadvantaged communities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic’s public health and economic consequences. Many Black Americans and their communities lack sufficient income and wealth to buffer both the job loss crisis and the economic crisis that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these communities are physically dense, in both living and working environments, which puts these families at greater risk of being exposed to the virus. At the same time, Black Americans are overrepresented in frontline essential occupations, which has led to their increased risk of exposure to COVID-19. This overrepresentation, coupled with long-standing disconnection from the nation’s public and private health-care systems, has translated to a disproportionate share of individuals and families that are unwilling to avail themselves of opportunities to vaccinate throughout spring and summer 2021, when several effective vaccines became available to most, if not all, adult residents of the United States (Shah 2021).

As a result, the situation for Black families in fall 2021 can be described as neither clearly improved nor clearly diminished; in the midst of the continuing pandemic, the situation is both uneven and evolving unevenly. As of fall 2021 there have been historic reductions in Black life expectancy along with improved unemployment statistics, occurring across families whose children are more likely to have experienced substantial learning loss due to reductions in in-person learning. While many of these families, like Americans in general, have benefitted from a generous expansion of the social safety net, state and federal frictions in the delivery of safety-net benefits have caused some of these households to go without key supports, including Unemployment Insurance benefits, federal economic relief assistance, refundable tax credits, and housing assistance.

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