Last Updated on March 10, 2022 by BVN

Breanna Reeves |

As California begins its process of recovering from the pandemic by launching its SMARTER Plan, a report published by the the Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity at Work (CARE at Work) at the UCLA Labor Center details how Black workers were greatly impacted throughout the pandemic and continue to experience a job crisis, despite the state’s recovery plan.  

The report, Essential Stories: Black Worker COVID-19 Economic Health Impact Survey, utilizes the experiences and insight of nearly 2,000 Black workers across the regions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and San Diego to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges Black workers faced during the pandemic as it relates to their work environment, wellbeing and economic and financial stability. The survey was conducted from May 2021 to July 2021.

Black frontline workers were greatly impacted throughout the pandemic. (source:

“​​What this report does is it allows us to amplify the voices of the Black workers, those in essential worker positions, also (those) self-employed in other types of industries,” said Antonia Izuogu, one of the report authors. “I think a whole word that could really define this is just support, and being heard and respected in whatever aspect that looks like.” 

According to the report, a majority of the workers surveyed were employed in essential sectors before COVID-19 and nearly 50% of the participants experienced lay-offs, terminations or furloughs, since March 2020. The report noted workers who were initially, temporarily laid off due to the pandemic, were eventually permanently out of work, an occurrence that impacted Black employees more than whites.

Key findings

The study examines how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequities that have contributed to the Black jobs crisis (Black unemployment and underemployment) such as unsafe working conditions, discriminatory work environments and inaccessible worker support. Other key findings outlined in the report are:

  • More than 50% of survey respondents reported working in essential or frontline sectors before the pandemic.
  • Approximately a third of Black workers reported experiencing prejudice or discrimination at work during the pandemic. 
  • 71% of on-site workers were concerned about their safety due to the potential for COVID-19 exposure on the job.
  • 30% of participants surveyed had coworkers test positive for COVID-19 to their knowledge, but many shared that their employer did not disclose positive case numbers.
Many Black workers participating in the survey said their employers did not disclose positive case numbers. (source:

A 2020 Economic Policy Institute study found that Black workers made up about one in six of all “frontline industry workers,” accounting for 17% of the frontline workforce across all frontline industry categories.

“That categorization of essential and frontline sectors that we know Black folks tend to be in because they tend to be low-wage jobs, they tend to be jobs that are maybe more prone to exploitation, did put Black workers at a disproportionate risk because they were already in those sectors that never shut down,” explained Déjà Thomas, the report’s lead author and CARE at Work program manager.

A way forward

In addition to describing personal workplace experiences and economic challenges of Black workers, the report also offers recommendations from Black workers in regard to what support is needed to achieve an equitable recovery at the regional, state and federal levels. The recommendations are organized across three categories: long-term economic support and help with basic needs, targeted worker wellness programming and targeted workforce rights and development programming.

As the first large-scale study of Black workers in Southern California, this report aims to acknowledge and center the experiences of workers and target how the state can achieve a full economic recovery that focuses on increasing and sustaining Black employment. Thomas explained that history has shown when Black people are excluded from recovery efforts, recovery of the group can take over a decade and people may not survive how long the recovery takes.

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at or via twitter @_breereeves.