COVID-19 threatens to severely undercount communities of color in the 2020 Census, as Vox explains. “As a community organizer in Los Angeles, Antionette Saddler has worked to combat police brutality, poverty, and homelessness, particularly in black and brown communities. Now the 26-year-old activist is focused on another issue at the intersection of social and racial justice: the 2020 census. Historically, “data has shown that black communities are always undercounted, and we see this happening yet again,” says Saddler, a team lead with the California Black Census & Redistricting Hub, a.k.a. the CA Black Hub. A project of the civic nonprofit California Calls, the network of more than 30 organizations aims to maximize statewide participation in the census and redistricting process. “With Covid-19 hitting our communities at rapid rates, folks are being told to social distance. Which means our opportunity to spread the word to some of the most undercounted communities has become little to none,” Saddler points out… Additionally, the census drives the distribution of $1.5 trillion in tax dollars for communities nationwide and vital public needs: schools, housing, mass transportation, health programs, infrastructure (roads and highways), public safety, Medicaid, emergency services, and more. “Billions in federal dollars flow to state governments and to the local level,” Michael C. Cook Sr., a spokesperson for the US Census Bureau, told Vox. “It’s about power and money. It shapes the future.” And historically, power has not moved in the direction of America’s most vulnerable populations — the ones who have the most to gain from public services and the most to lose in redistricting. The Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, has projected that more than 4 million people could be undercounted in the 2020 census. And advocates such as the CA Black Hub worry that the health crisis could dramatically impact this year’s census count. Before the pandemic, CA Black Hub planned its “My Black Counts” campaign around a mix of outreach, including education, digital advertising, social media, telephone calls, and door-to-door canvassing. Starting last fall, they’d reached 25,000 residents — California’s black population nears 3 million — by phone and door-knocking, according to Ama Nyamekye, CA Black Hub’s project manager. With safety top of mind now, they’ve suspended in-person contact and are using a virtual phone bank platform that enables coalition members to efficiently call and communicate the importance of everyone being counted in the census. At least 5,000 calls were made in April, they say. Even so, challenges abound. “I have talked to many community members who didn’t even remember the 2020 census was live, or they feel discouraged right now,” says Saddler. “This pandemic has shaken people, but it is my duty to remind them that they do matter, that they do count.”
The Guardian reports on the administration’s rollback of environmental protections during the pandemic. “The Trump administration is playing both offense and defense, rescinding and rewriting some rules and crafting others that would be time-consuming for a Democratic president to reverse. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has written what critics say will be a weak proposal for climate pollution from airplanes, a placeholder that will hinder stricter regulation. Trump officials have been attempting to create a coronavirus relief program for oil and gas corporations, a new move in his campaign to back the industry and stymie global climate action. The president has sown distrust of climate science and vowed to exit the Paris climate agreement, which the US can do after the election… “What Trump’s done is create a blitzkrieg against the environment … trying to dismantle not just Obama’s environmental achievements but turn back the clock to a pre-Richard Nixon day,” said Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University who is writing a book on the subject. “It’s just death by a thousand cuts. It’s not one issue, it’s just across the board.””
The Washington Post reports on the disproportionate toll pandemic-related job losses are taking on women’s employment and economic security, especially for women of color. “The last time Americans faced an economic crisis, it was called a “Mancession.” As millions of people lost their jobs in the Great Recession, 70 percent were men, many in construction and manufacturing. This time, as job losses linked to the coronavirus pandemic dwarf what the country experienced in the 2007-2009 crisis, the heaviest toll is falling on women. Waitresses, day-care workers, hairstylists, hotel maids and dental hygienists are among the 20.5 million people who watched their jobs vanish in April — the most devastating spike in unemployment since the Great Depression. “I had a good rhythm going. I wasn’t rich, I couldn’t complain saying I was poor,” said Ilanne Dubois, a 36-year-old single mother on Long Island who worked as a waitress at a Manhattan hotel. “Now, all of that stability is gone. We’re falling into a hole.” Women have never experienced an unemployment rate in the double digits since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting data by gender in 1948 — until now. At 16.2 percent, women’s unemployment in April was nearly three points higher than men’s, according to Labor Department rates released Friday. But a closer look at the numbers shows deeper disparities. Not only are women overrepresented in some of the hardest-hit industries, such as leisure and hospitality, health care and education, but women — especially black and Hispanic women — lost jobs in those sectors at disproportionate rates.”
The New York Times reports on the budget crisis facing states and localities, as well as efforts by Congress to provide financial aid. “States are suffering from a collapse in sales and other tax revenue, even as they face enormous new costs for health care, emergency medical services, jobless aid and other safety net programs. Without more support, the Western governors warned, states would have to make “impossible decisions” such as whether to fund public health care programs or lay off teachers, police officers, emergency medical workers and firefighters. While the federal government can run budget deficits, states do not have that option… Large state budget shortfalls could prolong a recession, economists have said, by prompting a cascade of layoffs that ripple across the economy. In April, state and local governments laid off one million people, a number that could continue to climb without additional assistance. “This is not a partisan issue,” said Lee Saunders, the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “This is not a red or blue issue. This is an issue about providing essential services to the people that rely upon them — and that’s the entire country.” … House Democrats are preparing to unveil another sweeping coronavirus relief measure that would allow for another round of direct payments, an increase to food assistance programs and support for the Postal Service — proposals that they acknowledge will likely meet conservative resistance and may not survive in negotiations with the Senate. The centerpiece is expected to be aid for state, local and municipal governments, comparable to or eclipsing the nearly $700 billion that has been distributed to small businesses through a loan program created by the stimulus law.
TransitCenter examines Minneapolis’ efforts to embed equity in transit policies and shares lessons learned for other transit agencies. “Public transit agencies across the United States are increasingly recognizing the need to advance social equity through service provision, capital investment, and small business contracting practices. Less publicized — but no less important — are internal practices to advance social equity within the transit agency workplace itself. Equitable decision-making inside agencies is foundational to making equitable public-facing policy. An agency workforce that fully represents the identities and experiences of its ridership is more likely to make service and planning decisions that yield more equitable social and economic outcomes. The status quo falls far short: Most transit riders are women, people of color, and people with low incomes, while there is typically a gender imbalance throughout transit agency ranks and a lack of people of color at leadership levels. And yet, promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the transit workplace is rarely discussed in much detail.”
A New York Times op-ed explores some ways to transform cities during and after the pandemic. “Today, our common space is more than sidewalks and parks. In these times, cities such as Seattle, Los Angeles and Denver are making municipal bus travel free, to help essential workers and protect the health of drivers, since riders can enter at the back. This spirit should also continue once the pandemic has passed. We have a blind spot in the U.S. around seeing public transportation as something that has to compete in the market — rather than as an essential service and an economic engine that, particularly when it is cheap and reliable, repays investment by enabling and stimulating employment and business activity. (Whereas driving, with its enormous cost of pollution and road maintenance, is seen as a right.) Just as elsewhere in our cities, the same changes in public transportation that will make it more effective and less of a platform for contagion — more frequent, dependable service, low or no cost — will also drive economic opportunity for the most vulnerable.”