In our current environment, we have seen jobs disappear at an unbelievable pace. People in roles for decades, suddenly laid off because of the impact of a worldwide pandemic. When you look deeper at the numbers, it is the Black, Brown and Indigenous who have been hurt more extremely than any others. Racial inequalities have existed forever in this country. As our economic systems get stretched to their limits, the most impacted individuals are those who most need the support of our educational institutions.
Over the past few months, we have seen protests over the racial inequities within our country. Though these protests began with the violent, horrific death of George Floyd, the fervor, strength and persistence of the response are because there are multiple generations of mistreated and underrepresented people who are forced by our society to fend on their own. These issues exist within every facet of our country and show up most plainly in our employment system.
Since the start of the pandemic, the pain that has come for workers has not come equally. Persons of color are overwhelmingly taking the brunt of the increase in unemployment. As you can see below, the pandemic has hit Black and Brown workers significantly harder than White workers.
This unequal impact of COVID-19 does not appear to be slowing down either. As the pandemic numbers rise again in many areas, we can expect to see these numbers increase in their inequality as even more of the work that many Black and Brown workers have found themselves in begins to slow down again. On top of that, for many of these workers with more consistent pay, they are considered essential and continue to expose themselves to the virus in a way that many others do not. One of the sadder aspects of the pandemic is that, across the country, the pandemic has hit communities of color, and especially more impoverished communities of color, harder than anyone else. This inequality of impact is a result of the legacy of structural racism and discrimination that has affected both the health and the wealth of these communities.
Now, you might imagine that as someone whose work centers around college and career access and opportunities for persons of color I would tell you that I have a fix for this. However, the fix for this is significantly greater than what I can offer. What I can offer is this: although we have seen terrible rates of unemployment across the board, where unemployment seems to have significantly less of an impact is among those with either 2- or 4-year degrees. No, college is not a panacea for all issues that exist, but it is a handbrake that helps all who have it maintain in a way that a high school diploma does not. College is not for everyone. However, every student that walks into one of our classrooms should have the opportunity, should they choose to attend college, to see how it can benefit them. The jobs that existed for individuals with high school diplomas have barely existed over the last decade, and after this pandemic, it would surprise me if they came back at all.
This is where our role as educators is incredibly valuable. We must do the work of educating our communities and students about the benefits of continuing their education. Yes, for many of the students that we serve, a high school diploma is a fantastic accomplishment. For many of my friends growing up, it was for them also. However, as our country hurtles towards our next significant economic shifts, we do not want our current students to get left behind because they were not prepared in K-12 to see the need for upskilling and additional postsecondary credentialing. We can be a pathway to safety for the families we serve if we are prepared to meet the challenge.
Daniel Gray (The Broad Residency 2017-19) is currently the Managing Director for College and Career at Uplift Education. Learn more in Daniel’s previous blog post about his work and his unrelenting focus on preparing all students for the world beyond high school.