By: Stacey Abrams and Alí Bustamante. Photo by Kevin Lowery (@kevloweryphoto).
This guest blog is part of a week-long series for IWPR’s signature Status of Women in the States initiative. The work featured in this series highlights the various ways the pandemic and related economic crisis are impacting women and their families at the state level. This project builds on IWPR’s recent economic recovery report that details the extent to which women, and particularly women of color, have shouldered the greatest burden of the economic crisis, and also proposes a slate of bold policies to ensure a gender-equitable recovery. The pieces included in this series provide a snapshot of what women are experiencing in states across the nation, and highlight the urgent need for federal funding for states and localities.
In Georgia, and across the South, women are fighting for their lives because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The threat of illness, coupled with a struggling economy, has laid bare the systemic inequalities women face at home and in the workplace.
The all too familiar challenges of putting food on the table, caring for children, and paying rent have become insurmountable for many families. And we know that these challenges did not originate during the pandemic, but stem from a history of bad policy choices that have eroded the entire social safety net—including worker protections, healthcare coverage, and childcare access.
The well-being of women and their families has been taken for granted for much too long. The South has the worst infant and maternal mortality rates in the country. The choice that seven of the 12 Southern states made in failing to expand Medicaid have contributed to the highest rate of uninsured persons in the country along with numerous rural hospital closures. Add to that lower rates of paid sick leave, weak levels of public benefits, and fewer overall resources, and it should come as no surprise that more than 45 percent of the nation’s poor children live in the South, including 1.6 million Black children.
The needs of women and families in Georgia are clear. A recent survey of SNAP participants in Georgia—designed by the Southern Economic Advancement Project and administered by Propel through their Fresh EBT smartphone app—found that 61 percent of respondents are worried that they may not have stable housing in the next two months; 53 percent have trouble buying enough food; 39 percent lost a job; and 35 percent had childcare issues. Wileen, a Georgia survey respondent, expresses the feeling of many women in the state, “We need help now. We are hopeless and suffering.”
The current pandemic recovery must prioritize women and families, especially Black and Brown families that have disproportionately suffered job loss, illness, and death. That means leveraging public resources to get through this crisis—and we will get through this—and insisting on a strengthened economy that focuses on women as the fulcrum of well-being. That includes family-supporting wages, a fully-funded childcare infrastructure, a voice in the workplace, and investments in the education, health, and livelihoods of people and communities that have been neglected and treated as disposable for generations. A gender-equitable recovery for women and families also requires that municipalities spend federal relief funds where their greatest needs are—something that has been uneven at best in the administration of CARES Act funds.
The stakes could not be any higher for women in this moment. In Georgia, and across the nation, we have the power to pave a new and more just path in the COVID-19 response and our nation’s recovery.
The Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP)
SEAP is your partner and resource. We amplify the efforts of existing organizations and networks that work towards broadening economic power and building a more equitable future.
Broadening economic power brings attention to how race, class and gender intersect social and economic policy in the South. We explore policy ideas designed to directly address these connections. SEAP focuses on 12 Southern states and marginalized/vulnerable populations within the region and is a fiscally sponsored project of the Roosevelt Institute.
SouthStrong is a collection of more than 185 Southern organizations and scholars seeking an equitable and people-first response to economic recovery in a post-pandemic South. SouthStrong partners work together on a shared approach to make policymakers and stakeholders aware of and accountable for the social and economic inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic — one that is based on respect, dignity, equity, and justice