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Why Black Women Still Haven’t Rebounded From Pandemic Job Losses

While the economy has begun to recover, we still have a long way to go.

Workin' Girl

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the economy hard as many jobs were lost due to temporary and permanent business closures. The Census Bureau’s Pulse survey showed that tens of millions of people lost their jobs during the early months of the pandemic and while the economy has begun to recover, we still have a long way to go particularly our Black women.


The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) data showed that women received 40.3% of the 467,000 jobs that the economy gained in January 2022. However, 1 out of 17 Black women ages 20 years and over were still unemployed. That’s in comparison to 1 in 20 Latinas and 1 in 31 Asian women. So, why are Black women still behind in the workforce?

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According to NWLC, a lot of it has a lot to do with the fields that many Black women were working in, which were hit the hardest. One out of three Black women were essential workers in roles that required them to be on the front line. These roles ranged from registered nurse to retail sales. And even in those roles, they were paid 63 cents on the dollar in comparison to white men who worked those same jobs.

The data gave this example: “Black women working full-time, year-round as registered nurses make 90 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men in these jobs; their typical annual losses to the wage gap total $7,000. Meanwhile, Black women working full-time, year-round as supervisors of retail sales workers make just 65 cents for every dollar white, non-Hispanic men make in these jobs, which adds up to a typical annual loss of $18,000.”

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The report also pointed out that Black women who returned to the labor force after losing employment during the pandemic were only left with low paying jobs to choose from, which is only further increasing the wage gap that already exists between Black women and Black men as well as other races and gender. But Black women can’t end the wage gap alone. Black women need the support of non-Blacks as well as the higher-ups at companies to revisit their hiring practices in an effort to have a more diverse workplace.

NWLC also suggested that we should “support policies that expand and strengthen federal and state unemployment insurance programs; expand access to comprehensive health coverage, including reproductive care; bolster equal pay laws; increase the wages of women in low-paid jobs by raising the minimum wage; protect workers’ ability to join unions and collectively bargain; expand the availability of high-quality, affordable child care; and provide paid family and medical leave.”

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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