The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the world's economy, and the nation's capital was not spared this time.

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the world's economy, and the nation's capital was not spared this time.

Last month, U.S. employers cut 140,000 jobs – the first decline since April. Of those 140,000 jobs, women accounted for all of them – women losing 156,000 jobs, while men gained 16,000. And we saw another alarming disparity; Black women and Latinas lost jobs in December, while White women made significant gains.

The national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 6.7%. While we do not know D.C.’s unemployment numbers for December, its unemployment rate has remained slightly higher than the national average. In November, the District had an unemployment rate of 7.5%.

In the past, D.C. has been immune to recessions, but why not this time? And why have women suffered the majority of the job losses throughout the pandemic recession?

Produced by Kurt Gardinier


  • Eileen Appelbaum Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research; @EileenAppelbaum
  • Tazra Mitchell Policy Director, DC Fiscal Policy Institute; @TazraMitchell


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. All this month in our new Kojo Connects series we're looking at economic inequality and the effect the pandemic has had in making disparities worse. So let's begin. Later in the broadcast we look at potential solutions to this economic crisis and what local and state leaders are doing to help the thousands in need during these unprecedented times.

  • 12:00:27

    KOJO NNAMDIBut first, let's take a look where things stand with our national and local economies. Which groups of people have been most affected during the past 10 months? Are we heading in the right or wrong direction? And how is the D.C. economy faring compared with other cities and the rest of the country? Joining us now is Tazra Mitchell, Policy Director with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Tazra Mitchell, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:54

    TAZRA MITCHELLHi, good afternoon. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:00:57

    NNAMDIFirst off, could you briefly tell our listeners exactly what the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute is and does?

  • 12:01:04

    MITCHELLSure thing. D.C. FPI is a -- I like to call us a think and do tank. So we are researchers and advocates who do research on the state of the economy with an aim towards ensuring that the economy is working well for everybody. And so no one is left behind and everybody has the resources that they need. So we're laser focused on poverty and economic opportunity with a particular focus on fiscal policy, so using the District budget and tax code as a tool to advance racial justice as well as economic justice.

  • 12:01:42

    NNAMDIThat said, what does the economy look like right now? Is it recovering or is it worsening?

  • 12:01:47

    MITCHELLRight. The economy is definitely worsening. You know, yesterday's inauguration and celebration was historic and a breath of fresh air. But all of us woke up this morning to new labor data that is a sobering reminder of just the continued challenges that we're facing. So there are about 20 million Americans out of work or facing reduced hours and our layoffs are rising. And all of the new data is just showing that this increase underscores -- layoffs are increasing just the virus surges. So as the virus goes, the economy goes.

  • 12:02:23

    MITCHELLUntil we can get the pandemic under control, we will continue to see high unemployment rates, particularly for women -- for Black and brown workers. And yes, so what we're seeing is that economic inequality has definitely been worsened by this pandemic and there are no signs of relief.

  • 12:02:44

    NNAMDIIn the past, D.C. has largely been viewed as recession proof. How has that been the case and why are things different this time?

  • 12:02:54

    MITCHELLSure. That is a common label that D.C. gets. So when the economy tanks, in D.C. our government anchored workforce is often what insulates us from the worst shocks. So in D.C. federal jobs account for about a quarter of the jobs in D.C. compared to about two percent nationally. So in past recessions large boost in federal spending have definitely benefited D.C.'s economy, as the recession unfolded. In past recessions, manufacturing and mining were hit really hard, but those aren't really huge industries here in D.C. However, under COVID, we literally had to shut down our economy to save lives hitting some core sectors in the D.C. economy far harder.

  • 12:03:37

    MITCHELLSo hospitality and tourism are really large industries here in D.C. And those have been walloped by the health crisis. And there have been scores of jobs that have been wiped out over the last 11 months. So while we are usually a bit insulated, private sector jobs are growing as a higher share of our workforce overall. But, you know, the industries that are hardest hit have just been really core to our economy. So you can't really protect. There's not much that we could do to avoid some of the worst shocks just because this recession is quite different.

  • 12:04:11

    NNAMDIIs your dog with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute? He or she seems to want to --

  • 12:04:15

    MITCHELLI apologize to your listeners.

  • 12:04:16

    NNAMDISeems to want to have a say in this conversation.

  • 12:04:19

    MITCHELLI just adopted a very vocal dog. So I apologize to your listeners as I adapt to working from home, like many of those across the District.

  • 12:04:30

    NNAMDIWe listen carefully to every voice on this broadcast. Any particular news this morning?

  • 12:04:35

    MITCHELLSure. So the data released this morning was federal data. So what we saw from the Department of Labor was that -- we just saw the unemployment insurance claim data. So 1.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, and that's an uptick of about 113,000 claims. And what's really striking to me and hopefully to your listeners is that this was the 44th straight week that total initial claims were greater than the worst week of the great recession.

  • 12:05:08

    MITCHELLAnd many of us can remember the great recession. It was the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. Tens of thousands of people in D.C. lost their jobs and were thrown into economic distress, but what we we're seeing in the District is that an unprecedented job loss that continues to stay quite elevated -- and, you know, the shocks of this economy -- or recession isn't being felt equally across the District. We know that Black and brown and women workers are really bearing the brunt of the recession.

  • 12:05:42

    MITCHELLAnd if we look at unemployment rate -- the latest unemployment rate in D.C. came out in November and that was above seven percent higher than what it was at this point last year. But if you look at unemployment rate data by ward, we're seeing rates in the teens for Ward 7 and 8 east of the river. And we know that those are wards that are majority Black wards. And if you compare the unemployment data the rate is about three percent in Wards 2 and 3. So we're seeing huge shocks to our economy, but ones that are not being felt equally across the District.

  • 12:06:24

    NNAMDIWell, last month we saw that 140,000 jobs were lost and of that 140,000 -- it was the first decline since April. And of that 140,000 women accounted for all of the job losses. Can you -- that's a startling statistic. Can you talk about how that happened and the significance of it?

  • 12:06:51

    MITCHELLIt's very significant and it's going to have ripple effects for our economy for quite a long time. So the pandemic has particularly pommeled women both in D.C. and across the nation, because they tend to work in the hardest hit industries like education, retail and hospitality. So like you said employers cut over 140,000 jobs in December. Black and Latino women accounted for nearly all of the job losses on that. White women like men actually gained jobs in December, and add that to child care responsibilities and you have what economists are calling a shecession.

  • 12:07:26

    MITCHELLSo we're seeing more and more women dropping out of the workforce, which again, hurts our long term economic recovery, but also the decades of progress that we've gained. And for women as well as for other workers, whenever you loss income, you're not only hurting in the moment, but that also means that you're putting less money aside for retirement. You are able to save less to get you through the next economic storm. And it just means that you're less likely to spend money in the local economy and support local businesses. So there are ripple effects to this shecession and deep recession that we're experiencing.

  • 12:08:06

    NNAMDIAlso joining us is Eileen Appelbaum, Co-Director with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Eileen Appelbaum, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:15

    EILEEN APPELBAUMGood afternoon, Kojo. And I'm really, really pleased to be here with you.

  • 12:08:20

    NNAMDIAnd we are pleased that you are here too. But let's take a step back. What does the national economy look like right now compared with how it looked this time last year?

  • 12:08:29

    APPELBAUMWell, it's the worst that it's ever been. We have never had a president take office facing an economy that has been as devastated as this economy has been. And it's going to need so much help to turn around. The unemployment rate is rising. COVID has not actually peaked yet. More businesses are going to shut down. We've already seen how many people have lost their jobs just in the last year. You know, the increase in joblessness over the one year period is 10 million people. That's a lot of people to reemploy.

  • 12:09:12

    APPELBAUMSome of them are in these essential -- had been in these essential industries. Some of them have been care workers, childcare workers. Those businesses have shut down. Very, very little has been done to preserve the childcare system up to this point to make sure that small business got the PPP loans that were supposed to help them. Many of them went to very large corporations including those owned by private equity.

  • 12:09:47

    APPELBAUMSo the money that we did have in the CARES Act, of course, a lot of it did reach workers and was very helpful. That extra $600 a week in unemployment insurance, the $1200 that came to families, $500 for children -- it's the adults and $500 for children. I mean, there were a lot of things that were on that were a big help. They were allowed to expire. People were in desperate situations.

  • 12:10:14

    APPELBAUMThe supplement that was passed in December did not go very far. It had nothing in it for state and local governments, which are suffering and where a lot of the job losses that are currently occurring are actually among teachers, firefighters, really necessary local employees that provide just important services to their communities. And we haven't given the states the money to deal with it. The states have a lot of increased expenses in trying to get testing out for people for COVID, helping the hospitals.

  • 12:10:53

    APPELBAUMThe way we gave out money to hospitals in the CARES Act was also a disgrace. The legislation was very good. But it was put in practice by the Trump administration and they engineered it so that the money went first to hospitals that had the largest number of Medicare patients. So every large academic medical center, every really big hospital chain, they got tons of money. Whereas the safety net hospitals, the community hospitals, the rural hospitals that mostly serve Medicaid patients, low income poor people got no money in the first round. And were--we embarrassed the authorities to make sure that money came shortly after, and so they got their money later. And, you know, not very much compared to the really big hospitals.

  • 12:11:51

    APPELBAUMSo I'm hoping that with Biden here, with a commitment to equity and fairness and how our funds were allocated, we're going to see a lot more help for small businesses for women owned and Black owned businesses, which are the ones that have gone under at the greatest rate.

  • 12:12:08


  • 12:12:09

    APPELBAUMIt's not just the job loss that we were discussing, but it's all of these small businesses that are the life blood of local communities.

  • 12:12:19

    NNAMDIGot to interrupt, because we have to take a short break right now. We'll rejoin the conversation shortly afterwards. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:42

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about how this recession has disproportionately affected women and people of color. We're talking with Tazra Mitchell, Policy Director with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. And Eileen Appelbaum, Co-Director with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Eileen Appelbaum, while many note that D.C. was shortchanged in federal relief money because we're not a state -- more on that in a moment. But the District did use federal funding as part of a local $100 million relief package rolled out in November to get money to struggling businesses. How has the District done in terms of economic assistance in your view?

  • 12:13:20

    APPELBAUMWell, I think you have to give the District administration a lot of credit. In a very difficult period both in terms of trying to protect small businesses owned by women and Blacks and people of color and also in its COVID response. I've really been impressed by the leadership here. Naturally, they need more money. They could use more money, but they've done a very good job of allocating what they have much better than what was written in to the various relief packages that were passed. I mean, one of the main problems especially as we were talking about the job loss by women and women of color is that the care infrastructures, the childcare infrastructure completely broke down. At the beginning of this pandemic, it was clear they were going to be closing down.

  • 12:14:18

    APPELBAUMThey needed $50 billion just to maintain the patchwork of childcare services that we have. They got $3.2 billion in the CARES Act whereas they airline industry got $46 billion. It tells you something about the priorities of the previous administration. And so it's not just the women, who lost their jobs because their places of work closed down. It is also the women who could not go to work, because they had no way to have their children cared for.

  • 12:14:48

    APPELBAUMSo it's just multiplied and a lot of what we're seeing in terms of losses -- in terms of the gains that women had made and the kinds of jobs they held and in the kinds of earnings they could command, this is being negatively affected by the fact that many, many women have voluntarily in a sense -- I mean, forced by the pandemic, but they've quit their jobs, because there's no way that they can have young children at home and go to work. It just doesn't work.

  • 12:15:19

    APPELBAUMSo I think the fact that the Biden administration has made the CARE economy one of his great priorities, it wants to in the short run preserve what we have and in the long run build back better so that we have really, you know, a gold standard childcare system, which is essential to the ability of women and Black and brown women in particular to work and to hold jobs.

  • 12:15:48

    NNAMDIHere now is Terrie in Silver Spring, Maryland. Terrie, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:15:54

    TERRIEHi, Kojo. Still love you. By the way, I am 82 years old. As you said, I live in Silver Spring. Montgomery County has done an excellent job of taking care of us senior citizens during this time as the whole COVID epidemic. However, I have a comment on the stimulus checks. It makes no sense to me that people on social security whose income didn't change when COVID hit -- we didn't lose our jobs. We had the same amount of money coming in. We were managing, most of us, I assume reasonably well. Why would we need a stimulus check? That money should have gone to people who were desperately in need of it. And that's basically my comment.

  • 12:16:38

    NNAMDIThank you very much. Care to comment on that, Tazra Mitchell?

  • 12:16:43

    MITCHELLSure. When we're facing deep economic downturns like the one that we're facing right now, the best way to stimulate the economy and shock it so that we can more quickly recover is to provide cash to Americans. It's the quickest way to get money out. You know, it was pretty well targeted. I think that we can have a debate whether or not, you know, the $100,000 cap in the first round and then the $75,000 cap in the second round was too high or too low. But, you know, the best way to get money out quickly is to do it -- is to try not to have too many restraints, because the more restraints you have the less effective and economic stimulus check is. And a lot of people on social security actually struggle to make ends meet.

  • 12:17:41

    MITCHELLSenior poverty is lower compared to child poverty and family poverty, but I think that older adults are still suffering in this economic recession and getting them cash to support -- to A., make ends meet, but to also support the broader economy was the move in the right direction.

  • 12:17:56

    NNAMDIOkay. And, Terrie, thank you for your call and especially your sentiments about me. Here is Cynthia in Washington D.C. Cynthia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:18:07

    CYNTHIAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I had actually called in last week because I discovered from your show that about funding available for landlords. So I'm very thankful for that. But I have a small business. It's a landscape design and gardening business on Capitol Hill. And it's a startup business so I was supplementing my income as I build the business through my landlord income. And, of course, all that went away when the pandemic hit. I have a property near the beach that I was not able to rent during COVID. And I lost my tenant in my basement apartment. She went home to live with her parents. And I haven't been able to find anyone else. So -- and landlord income was not covered by unemployment.

  • 12:18:59

    CYNTHIASo that's then the issue is, you know, I'm finding myself not even having unemployment and not -- I had go tos with PPP funding, computer glitches, and I couldn't get through to anyone on the phone. And so, you know, I'm making ends meet, you know, because I do have a cushion, but, you know, it's running out.

  • 12:19:28

    NNAMDIAllow me to have Eileen Appelbaum address it because, Eileen, we're talking with someone who seems to be on the verge so to speak of falling through the cracks.

  • 12:19:37

    APPELBAUMRight. It is a tough situation. We have these moratoriums on evictions. But in her case she couldn't even find -- she had empty spaces there and couldn't find anybody who would take them. And we have -- we do not have enough help for the mom and pop people, who rent out properties. This is absolutely true. There was renter assistance in the CARES Act and Biden has proposed more renters assistance. This would allow renters, who can't evicted to claim money that they can pay to their landlord to keep the landlords from going under especially the small ones, but that money was impossible to access. It's really true. My hometown is Philadelphia and so I keep on top of what happens there just out of interest.

  • 12:20:36

    APPELBAUMAnd I discovered that despite the fact that there was rental assistance so that renters could pay their rest that almost none of it was spent. It has to be given back to the government, because it was so complicated to figure out how to get it, how to give it out. All of the things that your caller was speaking about made it impossible. And for people who are in her situation where the renters are gone, there's no mortgage relief for them. So this is very complicated. Unless her bank is willing to do forbearance and tack on whatever is unpaid to the end of the mortgage period that's the only relief. There are some banks that are doing that. But she's in a difficult situation.

  • 12:21:26

    NNAMDIIndeed. Cynthia, thank you very much for your call. Tazra, we only have about a minute left, but we're entering budget season. So what are some specific things local governments can do right now to help people who are struggling?

  • 12:21:37

    MITCHELLSure. You're right. We're in budget season in the District. And the District like I could say it's across the country have to have balanced budgets. Unlike the federal government, which can run deficits, which is good in a time like a recession that way that they can stimulate the economy. But, you know, rule number one is not to cut the budget. We cannot cut our way out of a recession. We have to make sure that we're addressing the looming childcare crisis, homelessness crisis. We have 6500 homeless residents in the District who need permanent supportive housing. And we also have an affordable housing crisis.

  • 12:22:13

    MITCHELLAnd so the worst thing that you can do during a recession as state government is cut because that takes money out of the local economy. It makes it harder for people to meet basic needs. And it just overall slows economic growth. So what lawmakers should be doing is making sure that they support small businesses, but also support the needs of the District residents, and part of that is raising revenues to address our budget shortfall so that we can build back better and more jobs recovery.

  • 12:22:43

    NNAMDITazra Mitchell is the Policy Director with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Eileen Appelbaum is the Co-Director with the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thank you both for joining us. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll look at potential solutions to this economic crisis. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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