African American State and Local Government Employees Have Higher Concerns About Health and Financial Risks of COVID-19

Nearly 40 percent of African American state and local workers expect to take on more debt.

Sep 23, 2020 | ARTICLE
African American COVID-19 Report

A national poll of state and local employees finds that African American workers are more concerned than their colleagues about the potential health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Thirty-nine percent of African American state and local employees are worried about contracting the coronavirus at work compared to 22 percent of all other survey respondents. Twenty-one percent of African American workers are concerned about a reduction in pay, which is nearly twice the level of other state and local employees (11 percent).

As the pandemic lingers, 39 percent of African American state and local employees expect to take on more debt in the next year. By comparison, 22 percent of all other survey respondents say they anticipate taking on more debt. Debt already is a problem for 69 percent of African American state and local employees, compared with 53 percent of all other survey respondents.  

AFRICAN AMERICAN STATE AND LOCAL EMPLOYEE VIEWS ON COVID-19These findings are contained in a new infographic from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) and ICMA-RC, African American State and Local Employee Views on COVID-19. This research is a supplement to a wide-ranging analysis of state and local employees’ views detailed in the recent report, Public Sector Employee Views on Finances and Employment Outlook Due to COVID-19.

Despite their worries, the research finds that African American respondents are more likely to express positive feelings while at work as it relates to serving their communities during the time of COVID-19. Forty one percent said they feel grateful, and 23 percent are optimistic. For all other survey respondents, 31 percent indicated they felt grateful while 14 percent felt optimistic.   

“As millions of state and local workers remain on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, our research indicates that African Americans see higher health and financial risks. This may correlate to the greater incidence and virulence of COVID-19 among Americans of color,” said Gerald Young,  SLGE senior research associate.

“Also troubling is that even before the pandemic, 41 percent of African Americans working in state and local jurisdictions did not have emergency funds set aside for unexpected expenses. Yet, despite these challenges, African Americans are feeling less anxious and pessimistic than their fellow workers,” Young noted. “We hope this research helps state and local employers with workforce management programs, especially as jurisdictions grapple with employee wellness, recruitment, and retention during these trying times.”

Additional findings from the infographic are summarized below:

  • African American respondents were most likely to work in education (27 percent) and health and human services (23 percent). Nineteen percent work in administrative positions, while 13 percent work in public safety.
  • African American respondents were more likely than others to indicate that they are extremely concerned about the impacts of the pandemic on their retirement plans (27 percent).
  • Thirty-nine percent of African American state and local employees are worried about keeping their family safe from contracting the virus, as compared to 23 percent of all other survey respondents.
  • Sixteen percent of African American workers are concerned about a reduction in job hours, as compared to 11 percent of all others. Also, 13 percent of African Americans polled are concerned about job loss, versus seven percent of others surveyed.  
  • Twenty-three percent of Africans Americans surveyed expected to spend significantly less than normal during the next year.
  • Thirty-eight percent of African Americans in state and local government are working remotely. Prior to the pandemic, 15 percent worked remotely to the same or to a greater extent than they do now.
  • Twenty-seven percent of African American state and local employees strongly agree that the pandemic has made people more aware of the importance of their work, compared with 14 percent of other respondents.

African Americans represent 18 percent of the U.S. state and local workforce, and state and local governments employ about 19 million workers. This research is based upon a survey of 1,008 full-time state and local government employees conducted by SLGE and Greenwald & Associates from May 4 through May 20, 2020. The final data were weighted by gender, age, household income, and industry type to reflect the distribution of the state and local government workforce as found in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.

The Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) helps local and state governments become knowledgeable and competitive employers so they can attract and retain a talented and committed workforce. SLGE identifies leading practices and conducts research on public retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, and labor force development. SLGE brings state and local leaders together with respected researchers. Access all SLGE publications and sign up for its newsletter at slge.org and follow @4GovtExcellence on Twitter.

About ICMA-RC

Founded in 1972, ICMA-RC is a nonprofit, independent financial services corporation with approximately $60 billion in assets under management and administration (as of June 30, 2020), focused on providing retirement plans and related services for over 1.5 million public participant accounts. ICMA-RC’s mission is to help those who serve their communities work toward achieving their retirement savings goals. For more information, visit www.icmarc.org, download ICMA-RC’s mobile app from the App Store® and Google Play or follow ICMA-RC on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter.

For more information, contact Kelly Kenneally, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, kkenneally@slge.org.

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