The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated deep-seated inequalities in the society, with communities of color and low-wage workers who are disproportionately women, racial minorities, and young workers bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s health and economic impact.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, scholars and activists have called attention to the “intersectional vulnerabilities” laid bare by the pandemic. An intersectional perspective highlights how various structural inequalities interconnect and shape the unique experiences of groups situated differently on the “matrix of domination.”

Young women of color are especially vulnerable during the pandemic recession, but public policies have failed to fully address their needs. Much of what we learned about the pandemic’s effects has focused on prime-age (25-64) adult workers’ experiences. Few studies focus on young women and especially young women of color, leading to critical knowledge gaps among policymakers about their lived experiences during the pandemic recession.

A new IWPR report seeks to understand the challenges young women face during the pandemic recession and racial/ethnic disparities among them. The report finds that young women lost more than a third of jobs between February and April, largely due to their concentration in industries and occupations that were hit the hardest by the pandemic.

Young women of color face challenges compounded by structural racism and sexism. Compared with young white women, young Latina and Black women not only suffered higher unemployment, they – alongside young Native American women – experienced a sharper increase in being disconnected from both school and employment. When directly asked about why one could not work for pay in the past seven days during the pandemic, young Black and Latina women are more likely than other young adults to identify care responsibilities as the main reason for not working for pay.

The report highlights how multiple structural inequalities in the labor market, unequal division of caring labor by gender, and systemic racial disparities in exposure to health risks and access to care combine to put young women of color at a particular disadvantage. Longstanding systemic racial inequities have put communities of color at a higher risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. Low-income families and communities of color tend to lack access to health care and affordable care services. Black and Brown workers are often essential workers without access to paid sick leave and the ability to work from home. These systemic inequities led to elevated care responsibilities for women of color across the age spectrum..

To achieve long-term economic security and justice, young women of color need both targeted short-term pandemic relief plans and long-term systemic change, including high-quality jobs, strengthened labor standards, affordable universal care, and policies supporting social changes to undermine structural gendered racism.