Coronavirus Recovery Must Address Structural Barriers Holding Back Women of Color

Coronavirus Recovery Must Address Structural Barriers Holding Back Women of Color

by April 24, 2020

Washington, D.C. — Today, the Women’s Initiative at the Center for American Progress released a new report and issue brief. The issue brief explores how the coronavirus is exposing the many ways America’s health care system underserves women, including how insurance coverage is insufficiently robust, how federal and state policies fail to achieve health equity for women of color, how reproductive health care services are stigmatized, and how the providers women disproportionately rely on are underfunded or inaccessible.

The report looks at the economic harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic on women of color, many of whom comprise a disproportionate share of key essential workers on the front lines. The report analyzes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the American Community Survey, among other sources, to delineate how COVID-19 impairs the employment and financial security of women of color and their families; inflames the caregiving crisis at work and at home; exacerbates the discriminatory workplace barriers women of color face; and threatens their health due to racism and structural health disparities.

The report and brief identify policy recommendations to fortify the nation’s response to the coronavirus crisis, including:

  • Strengthen women’s health care access by extending pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage, establishing a special enrollment period for pregnancy, guaranteeing that women can access their preferred provider, and increasing coverage for comprehensive reproductive health services without abortion restrictions added
  • Expand work-family policy and caregiving protections.
  • Provide necessary supports for essential workers, including personal protective equipment as well as emergency child care and housing.
  • Increase wages and undertake efforts to decrease the wealth gap, including by increasing the minimum wage and eliminating the subminimum wage for tipped workers and workers with disabilities.
  • Vigorously enforce anti-discrimination and other worker protections.
  • Institute industry-focused accountability measures.
  • Collect comprehensive data on COVID-19 infection and death rates by race, ethnicity, gender, pregnancy, and disability status, among other factors.
  • Provide wider access to quality employment and training programs with proven rates of success.

“This pandemic is revealing the extent to which America’s broken health care system leaves women behind and how these inequities compromise our nation’s ability to respond to public health crises—and subsequently our ability to rebuild. The Trump administration’s decision to reject a coronavirus special enrollment period and governors choosing to classify abortions, which are time-sensitive, as nonessential move us in the opposite direction of where we should be headed, which is to expand access to quality, affordable health care,” said Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of women’s health and rights with CAP’s Women’s Initiative and the author of the brief.

“It’s past time for lawmakers to have serious conversations about who is and who is not valued in our society and why that is. Women of color are on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis, always expected to provide care and services to others but without the supports that they sorely need. We must do more to confront head-on the long-standing racial, gender, and ethnic biases that have depressed the wages of women of color and limited their employment opportunities. These systemic and structural barriers—in workplaces, in our economy, and in America’s health care system—threaten to undermine our nation’s ability to rebound from this threat. Our policy response must center the needs of women of color and tackle the big, structural barriers that hold back them and their families,” said Jocelyn Frye, senior fellow with the Women’s Initiative at CAP and author of the report.

Please click here to read: “The Coronavirus Crisis Confirms That the U.S. Health Care System Fails Women” by Jamille Fields Allsbrook.

Please click here to read: “On the Frontlines at Work and at Home: The Disproportionate Economic Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Women of Color” by Jocelyn Frye.

To find the latest CAP resources on the coronavirus, visit our coronavirus resource page.


The Center for American Progress is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to promoting a strong, just and free America that ensures opportunity for all. We believe that Americans are bound together by a common commitment to these values and we aspire to ensure that our national policies reflect these values. We work to find progressive and pragmatic solutions to significant domestic and international problems and develop policy proposals that foster a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”


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