- February 1, 2021
- Resha Swanson
Adelante convened worker leaders, advocates, and academic researchers to design and carry out the Birmingham Worker Survey in the fall of 2020. The in-depth survey of over 200 low-wage workers—those making under $15 per hour—in the Greater Birmingham Area revealed wages and working conditions before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 1967, Black Americans marched, protested, and even rioted as decades of systemic racism and oppression came to a head. In response, President Lyndon Johnson established the Kerner Commission, which spent the next year researching, holding hearings, and visiting communities to examine racial inequity in the country. In 1968, the Commission issued its report, with one over-arching conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal… Segregation and poverty have created in the racial ghetto a destructive environment totally unknown to most white Americans. What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.”
Fifty years later, Americans are again marching in protest of systemic inequities that continue to plague our society.
This report, the thirteenth edition of the State of Working West Virginia, comes at a time when national attention has once again been drawn to the issue of racism and racial inequality. It is also the 10-year anniversary of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy’s report “Legacy of Inequality,” which chronicled the experiences and history of Black West Virginians, and analyzed the data showing the inequities that have always been and continue to be central to that experience.
And while there has been progress, the inequities that existed in 2010 — and have existed throughout the nation’s history — still persist in 2020, and West Virginia is not immune to them. Even before the pandemic and subsequent economic collapse, which has disproportionately hurt the Black community, Black West Virginians were almost twice as likely to be living in poverty. Black households have only 70 percent of the income of white households. Black men and women face higher unemployment rates and lower wages. Disparities persist in education, wages, health, and throughout the criminal legal system.
Both the annual State of Working West Virginia reports and the Legacy of Inequality report are typically collaborative efforts, with different organizations and advocates making contributions each year. This year, the pandemic presented challenges to bringing people together to work on a single report, which is why this report is organized a bit differently. While it still includes the usual data analysis section, in lieu of traditional policy recommendations as we have historically provided, this report includes a series of essays from advocates for and practitioners of racial justice in West Virginia, who will speak in their own voices to share their stories, experiences, and policy ideas for addressing racial inequality.
Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission came to the conclusion that systemic racism was barring Black Americans from access to equal opportunity nationwide. 10 years ago, the Legacy of Inequality report showed that systemic racism had led to persistent racial inequality here in West Virginia. And now, this report displays that the effects of systemic racism continue to harm our Black communities today.
Every year, the NC Justice Center releases our State of Working North Carolina report, which tells you what you need to know about how workers in our state are doing. This year, we focus on how historic barriers aren’t just immoral and oppressive to the people they constrain, they hold our whole state back from reaching its full social and economic potential.
- This Labor Day, we are reminded that there are still anti-labor policies on the books in Georgia that diminish worker power and economic opportunity for all.
- Unions play a significant role in shaping a better future for Georgia’s workers, their families and the economy overall.
Why it matters
At the expense of low-wage workers, those who wield more than their fair share of corporate and political power have facilitated and benefited from a historic rise in racial and economic inequality. Policymakers and business interests have collaborated long enough through state and local policies to make Georgia simultaneously the No. 1 place to do business and home of the No. 1 place for income inequality.
The weakening of labor protections in Georgia allowed for policies like Georgia’s Senate Bill (SB) 359 to ram through this legislative session. This bill shields businesses from liability by creating a near-impossible standard to prove gross negligence if a worker contracts COVID-19 on the job. In other words, state lawmakers bolstered protections for employers, but not for the people they employ who were forced to return to work prematurely during a deadly pandemic in a state with one of the highest infection rates, particularly among Black and Latinx Georgians.