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Report: Pandemic increasing race, gender disparities in Connecticut

A special report from Connecticut advocacy and research organizations backs up what experts have said since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: It disproportionately affects women and people of color.

The Connecticut Collective for Women & Girls and the Connecticut Data Collaborative, with the help of related organizations, released a special report this week titled “Essential Equity: Women, COVID-19 and Rebuilding CT.” It analyzes data regarding economic security, child care, mental health, hunger, housing and safety.

Connecticut Data Collaborative Executive Director Michelle Riordan-Nold, during a news conference Thursday morning, said the intended audience for the report is state leaders. “It provides important and timely insights on the impact of the ongoing crisis and gives policymakers and decision-makers a comprehensive view on the situation as we prepare for the months ahead,” she said. “Our focus was to look at real-time, publicly available data that was desegregated by gender, race and ethnicity.”

Jennifer Steadman, executive director of the Aurora Women and Girls Foundation, one of the sponsors of the report, began Thursday's news conference by outlining the impetus for the report.

"You might be feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis," Steadman said. "You may want some clarity about how to do the best for the most of our fellow citizens as we work toward relief and recovery, which is why I want to talk to you about how centering women and girls will lead to the best policy outcomes and the fastest recovery for all of Connecticut."

As of Jan. 20, women in Connecticut made up 6,600 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000, whereas men made up 6,282 cases per 100,000.

In the state, 54% of COVID-19 cases in have been in females; 15% of COVID-19 deaths were Black people, although Black people only make up 10% of the state’s population; 28% of COVID-19 cases were Hispanic people, although Hispanic people make up 16% of the state’s population; and 48% of the female workforce is essential workers. Unless otherwise specified, the data collected spanned all of 2019 and up to Sept. 30, 2020.

Recommendations to alleviate these inequities included extending and expanding “access to telehealth to create access to mental and physical health services for women and girls. Telehealth must be reimbursed on par with in-person visits.” The report also says to “Restore the HUSKY A eligibility limit for parents to 201% of the federal poverty level.”

The report noted that, before the pandemic, 18% of Connecticut women had “been told that they have some form of depression.” Now, “approximately half of Connecticut residents have reported emotional distress. On average, a higher percentage of females than males have reported mental health concerns.”

The research made a point to be intersectional, breaking down findings by race and gender as much as the data allowed. One such finding: Almost 3 out of 4 Hispanic women reported they had mental health concerns. 

“Females who reported their race or ethnicity as Black or Other reported increased rates of feeling down, depressed, or hopeless as well as having little interest or pleasure in doing things over the course of the pandemic,” the report reads.

One long-term way to address the health care disparities is to “Acknowledge, at all levels of government, that racism is a public health crisis,” it says.

Connecticut's workforce is 49% female but women dominate certain industries: 78% of workers in health care, 67% of workers in education and 56% of workers in hospitality and food services are female, according to the report. "Together these industries account for almost half (48%) of the state's female labor force," it notes, and are among those most heavily affected by the pandemic, "suggesting increased economic impact for women."

Possible solutions ranged from broad to minute. For example, the report urged financial support for minority- and women-owned businesses. It recommended all Connecticut workers have access to paid sick leave and that, among other things, the state’s minimum wage should reach $15 an hour by 2023.

As emphasized during the news conference, these components are interwoven with one another and integral to understanding the current public health crisis. Take housing: the report says 19% of Connecticut women “feel no or slight confidence” that they’ll be able to pay for housing next month. Among white women, 15% felt this way, while 33% of women who identified their ethnicity or race as “Other” and 32% of Black women shared this response.

“Between 66,273 (and) 133,000 households are at risk of eviction in Connecticut, amounting to $628 million to $1.2 billion dollars in public costs of eviction-related homelessness,” the report reads. “Between $400 million and $1 billion is needed to prevent an eviction crisis in Connecticut.”

In the short term, the report recommends that the state “Invest in an increased allocation to temporary housing assistance for renters to spend on future rent to continue through the pandemic and unemployment crisis.” And for the long term, “Increase availability of federally guaranteed housing choice vouchers to provide housing stability for low-income families.”

The report also found rampant inequities by race and gender when it comes to child care and domestic violence.

For child care, the report urges the state to “Initiate a system of universal early education and child care in Connecticut to ensure all families can afford high quality care with well-paid providers and educators in the setting of their choice.”

Since the pandemic, the Safe Connect domestic violence hotline has experienced a 30% increase in calls. The report suggests combating this by increasing “funding to support domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking programming and shelters” and by “not requiring verification by Notary Public on restraining orders.”

During Thursday's virtual event, Hartford resident Alysha Yard spoke about how the coronavirus has affected her life. She’s a single mother and a health care worker pursuing a nursing degree.

“When the pandemic first hit, I lost my job due to having to home-school — which I know a lot of parents are going through — my 8-year-old daughter through the second grade, while also home-schooling myself at the same time,” she said. “At the time, I only had one computer. It was really tough. My daughter’s school provided that computer for her to learn, so it was like her taking a break, me going on. It was pure chaos.”

She suggested that legislators “make college free for struggling minority students because oftentimes that’s a barrier in continuing education.” She called for food and rental assistance programs, “And perhaps a safe housing community for students and single mothers that is income-based, because the environment you reside in directly affects your ability as a student.”

s.spinella@theday.com

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