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Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and COVID-19



LOS ANGELES — A new report from the Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work the UCLA Labor Center offers a blueprint for Covid-19 recovery and reinvestment in the public sector to promote economic opportunities for Black workers. Through the most recent government data and relevant literature, Reimagined Recovery: Black Workers, the Public Sector, and COVID-19 speaks to the demands and the causes of local uprisings, with concrete recommendations on recovery in Los Angeles County. 


The report demonstrates that the public sector is significant and vital to Black people and Black families across communities in Los Angeles County: 

  • 1 in 5 Black workers work in the public sector; 
  • Nearly ⅔ of Black public sector workers are Black women;
  • Black public sector workers earn 46% more than Black private sector workers and live in households with total incomes that are 22% higher than their private sector counterparts; and
  • 44% of Black public sector workers own their homes as opposed to 28% of Black private sector workers contributing to greater economic stability of Black public sector workers.

The report explores lessons learned from past disasters and recovery efforts that failed to support Black communities. “When a crisis hits, it’s too often Black communities that bear the brunt of the impact,” said Deja Thomas, Graduate Student Researcher and Master of Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA. “We know this from the 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, Hurricane Katrina, and the 2008 recession that built economic recovery at the expense of Black workers in the public sector. This led to the disparities and injustices that laid the foundation for the disproportionate impact of Covid-19, state violence on Black lives, and uprising across Los Angeles today.” 

According to the study, now is not the time for austerity. “I’m a half-time worker and we are on the front lines, taking a chance on our lives; we need full-time employment so we can eat too,” explained David Neil, with the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. “I’ll tell you what this job has done for me…it saved my life, it gave me a chance to do what I do best, coach kids in sports.”

Los Angeles County has an opportunity to both expand services for communities that need them the most and place Black workers in quality jobs. “Austerity measures in the past hurt Black workers the most. It is imperative that the city and county resist cuts to programs, services, and related jobs that are critical to the community, and maintain equitable employment of Black workers,” said Lola Smallwood Cuevas, Project Director at the UCLA Labor Center and Founder of the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “Expanding the public services that communities are expressing a need for requires an investment in and expansion of the public sector. All scales of government have work to do to contribute to this public sector solution.” 

Local union leaders also urge Los Angeles leaders to resist job cuts. “Our workforce is largely Black and Latina women of color. Many of these women in my union are heads of households, their families and their communities depend on them, cutting them will do more harm than good,” explained Carmen Hayes-Walker, President of AFSCME 3090 and Vice President of District Council Local 36, “right after calling these workers heroes, in his next speech, the Mayor proposed furloughs.”


The report offers a set of recommendations for state, county, and local governments guidelines to protect and expand public sector jobs and uplift communities through workforce development training and pipelines that target Black workers. Along with eight other long-term recovery solutions, report authors call on Los Angeles County to: 

  1. Apply a racial equity lens to all forthcoming budget decisions; 
  2. Prioritize hiring and retention programs in the public sector;
  3. Intentionally target Covid-19 response resources to Black working-class families;
  4. Provide Black workers with adequate safety and safety net tools; and 
  5. Protect the health of Black workers, Black families, and Black communities. 

“No single reform—especially those made without Black folks who are most impacted—will undo the centuries of racialized violence and oppression,” said Janel Bailey, Co-Executive Director of Organizing & Programs of Los Angeles Black Worker Center. “Yet, by working toward justice and with a racial equity lens, we have the opportunity to establish a nationwide model for creating policies that shift power dynamics and give agency back to Black working-class communities.”

Supporting Organizations: AFSCME 741, AFSCME Local 3090, District Council 36, the Los Angeles Black Worker Center, the Los Angeles Federation of Labor, and Service Employees International Union, Local 721.