The recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd echo countless unjustified deaths of black individuals in America. Coupled with statistics revealing COVID-19’s disproportionate devastation of African American communities, the news today provides a grim reminder of structural inequality in America.
A Harvard Business Review article indicated deaths from COVID-19 are highest among communities of color. The CDC reported that of those hospitalized for COVID-19, 33 percent were black compared to 18 percent white. The CDC’s recent summary in an article on Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups indicates these disparities are often tied to economic and social conditions among minority communities due to a lack of access to quality health care and insurance that would treat underlying medical conditions.
Along with a direct health impact, no business has been untouched by COVID-19. With mandatory shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, businesses have been rocked and many employees have been furloughed or let go. Once again, the black community was severely impacted. The PEW Center indicated job and wage losses due to COVID-19 reached 44 percent for black households.
Already-vulnerable minority-owned small businesses are seeing the same disparities when it comes to rebounding from COVID-19. In an assessment of the financial health of companies, the Federal Reserve Banks reported that minority-owned small businesses were significantly more likely to show signs of limited financial health — according to factors such as profitability, credit scores and propensity to use retained earnings as a primary funding source. These companies were approximately twice as likely to be classified as “at-risk” or “distressed” than non-minority-owned small businesses before COVID.
Minority-owned businesses also tend to be in industries susceptible to disruptions from the pandemic. Service industries including accommodation and food services, personal services, child care and retail, have the highest share of minority-owned small businesses and are perhaps the most disrupted by COVID-19. This industry often requires physical proximity to others and services are less likely to be offered remotely.
The passage of the CARES Act 1 and 2 outlined many relief programs and opportunities for individuals as well as small businesses, yet minority families and small businesses repeatedly have not shared equal access to these funding sources for their households and businesses. Due to centuries of segregation, underinvestment and legally sanctioned discrimination, many black businesses have limited access to credit, banking relationships and net worth that would allow them to acquire financing needed to start or grow businesses. This has also impacted black businesses’ ability to access federal relief, including funding through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that up to 90 percent of businesses owned by black, indigenous and people of color will not be able to access PPP funding.
At this moment in time, these resources seem futile when at the core we are battling greater forces of justice versus injustice, life versus death and love versus hate. As community advocates, Community Development Financial Institutions, and seekers of justice, we stand together through this moment of history not only to fight for capital for black and brown business owners, and affordable housing and credit for low-income communities, but also equity and anti-racist policies and action.
We hope you will join us in this fight for equity.
Tammie Hoy Hawkins is the CEO of CommunityWorks. Anna Hamilton Lewin is the CEO of South Carolina Community Loan Fund. Steve Saltzman is the CEO of Charleston LDC.