The coronavirus is tearing through African American communities across the country and now workers at retail and grocery stores feel increasingly vulnerable.
“I’m up front and center with a lot of customers,” said Pam Hill, a cashier at Albertsons in Los Angeles and a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union told CNN. “It’s nervous times for us.”
Grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and retail stores are some of the few public spaces that are still open as they’re considered essential services. African Americans are disproportionately staffed at these positions, making work a potential life gamble.
“Black workers are putting their lives and health on the line to provide goods and services that matter to our society,” McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm said in a report Tuesday.
African Americans make up 11.9% of the American workforce, but 14.2% of workers are African American in grocery, drug, and convenience store industries. More than 18% of workers are African American in the trucking, warehouse, and postal service industry, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research.
“Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately in low-wage jobs. And among those are retail,” said Steven Pitts, associate chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California, Berkeley. “To the extent that you want workers to shelter in place, the capacity to shelter in place is racially shaped.”
The federal government is not tracking coronavirus by race, but racial disparities are evident in states across the country.
In Chicago, 72% of the city’s deaths have been among African Americans, who make up just 30% of the city’s population. The percentage in Michigan is a few ticks lower but African Americans still represent 41% of deaths, despite making up 14% of the state population.
In New York City, African Americans represent 28% of the deaths, 6% higher than their representation in the city’s population.
People with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable to the virus. African Americans in the U.S. are more likely to have diabetes, heart and lung disease. Additionally, African Americans tend to have lower levels of health insurance coverage.
Also, around one-third of white workers are able to work at home, according to the Economic Policy Institute. But less than 1 in 5 black workers and roughly 1 in 6 Hispanic workers are able to telecommute.
Add all this together and you have a dangerous cocktail for African Americans and other minorities.