The idea that everything is back to normal is tempting. Politicians on both sides of the political aisle have encouraged folks to toss off their masks, leave their vaccine cards at home, and push their way into crowded subway cars and return to equally crowded office spaces.
It’s no surprise then that life-saving policies like the eviction moratorium and the child tax credit, which gave most families with children $250 to $300 a month, have also been shelved. The result is that Black families, and Black women, especially, have been left to face the continued economic fallout without a safety net.
“Black women... are more likely to be experiencing food insufficiency. They’re more likely to be behind on rent and mortgage payments.” said Amy Matsui, Income Security Director at The National Women’s Law Center. “So, they have not at all recovered from the recession, and they’re still experiencing more hardship than the population overall.”
An Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey conducted by the National Women’s Law Center after many of the relief policies ended, backs-up Matsumi’s point.
Between March 2nd and March 14th, more than 23% of Black women reported not having enough food to eat, and over 44% of Black women with children reported that they sometimes or often could not afford enough food for their children.
In February, Black women’s unemployment rate was more than double the rate for white men and more than a percentage point above Black women’s pre-pandemic unemployment rate, according to a separate National Women’s Law Center report.
Unlike white families, who were more likely to use the child tax credits to add to their savings, Black and Hispanic families were more likely to use the tax credit to pay for essentials like food and bills.
So when the assistance went away, but the pandemic did not, it’s not surprising that many Black families fell back into poverty. Although there isn’t a lot of specific data looking at the impact of losing the tax credits on Black women, studies looking at the affect on Black children are telling.
After the monthly tax credits ended, the monthly child poverty rate for Black children went up from 19.5% to 25.4%, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University. In real-terms, roughly 662,000 more Black children entered into poverty.
“The things that have helped during the past two years are policies that people needed,” said Matsui. “They needed them before the pandemic, and they’re going to need them now going forward.”
It wasn’t just the child tax credits that went away. The ending of the eviction moratorium and many rental assistance programs has also dealt a deadly blow to Black women attempting to recover.
At the beginning of March, roughly 24% of Black women reported being behind on rent payments, according to the National Women’s Law Center census analysis. And, about 15% of Black women reported being behind on their mortgage.
“The combination of rollbacks of eviction moratoria and programs running out of emergency rental assistance are two factors increasing the risk of eviction for Black women,” wrote Sarah Hassmer, a housing expert at the National Women’s Law Center, in an email.
Bringing back these policies, in the form of legislation like the much embattled Build Back Better Act, require acknowledging two inconvenient truths.
First, that the pandemic, and its economic impact are far from over! And second, that the status quo for Black women and Black families was never ok.
And, if we can’t bring ourselves as a society to make those acknowledgments, well, Matsui says that the fallout for Black women who will now struggle to plan for retirement, is just going to compound itself.
“It’s not just a particular window of time,” she said. “There’s going to be a snowball effect, and we should be really concerned about that.”