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Wage Gains For Low-Income Californians Erased By COVID-19

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A report that examines income inequality in the COVID era found that the economic effects of the pandemic have widened the wage gap between the haves and have-nots in California, erasing economic gains made in the past couple of years by low-income workers after an already slow recovery from the Great Recession of 2008.

The study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that COVID-19 especially affected essential workers, who are more likely to be African American, Latino, low-income or women, and that the pandemic has exacerbated systemic disparities shaped by economic forces and recessions occurring since the 1980s.

The effect on Los Angeles is especially worrying, with unemployment even higher than in the Inland Empire, when the reverse is usually true.

“To me, [it] speaks to the challenge of both the health crisis that we’re in and the related economic crisis,” said Sarah Bohn, PPIC’s vice president of research and lead author of the study, speaking on KPCC's local news and culture show, Take Two. “I think both of those are contributing to the worst unemployment rate and underemployment rate in Los Angeles.”

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Those who researched the study made several recommendations to ensure an equitable recovery, including immediate federal relief for the hardest-hit workers, which kept many out of poverty at the beginning of the pandemic.

The authors called on the state to tackle long-term inequality with measures that include providing child care, boosting access to education, and addressing other systemic barriers that contribute to lack of economic opportunity for marginalized communities:

“The economic, health, and social challenges brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic are among the greatest California has faced in its 170-year history. Without deliberate policy action, the disproportionate effects of the pandemic and the recession will likely exacerbate long-standing trends of growing income inequality and limited economic mobility.”



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