The pandemic has taken a toll on many women’s finances. For some Black and Hispanic women, in particular, the financial pressure is intensifying.

More than 2.3 million women have left the labor force since February of last year, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Last month, the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.2%. For Black women and Latinas, it was over 8% compared with 5.2% for white women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With President

Biden’s

relief package still yet to be passed, the additional $300 to weekly unemployment payments is set to expire on March 14.

The current proposal would extend the enhanced benefits through September.

“The pandemic has amplified many of the challenges women work to overcome every day, particularly for Black women and Latinas who face racial wealth gaps in addition to gender wealth gaps,” said

Byna Elliott,

JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s head of Advancing Black Pathways, the firm’s effort to invest in Black businesses and improve the financial health of Black communities.

Some women are having to make difficult financial decisions and change their lifestyles in ways they never expected.

One reason is the lack of a financial cushion: While the typical Black or Hispanic family has $2,000 or less in liquid savings, the typical white family has more than four times that amount, according to a September report from the Federal Reserve.

Alicia Ocampo,

a server in Chicago, lost her job in March. Her 4-year-old son’s daycare shut down soon after.

The 29-year-old single mother had previously saved a portion of each paycheck and boosted her emergency fund to about six months of expenses. Her savings were gone by the end of September.

Realizing she had to move quickly to protect what was left of her savings, she stopped renting last spring and moved in with her parents and three siblings. She is now sharing a room with her son and her 22-year-old sister. Unemployment insurance has helped her contribute toward her parents’ household bills.

While Ms. Ocampo is thankful that she has a close family to assist her, she is disappointed that despite her savings and hard work, she and her son now need to rely on others. Her unemployment assistance is running out soon and with no steady job prospects in sight, she is fearful of what comes next.

“It’s very scary,” she said.

Black and Hispanic women also typically earn less than white women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hispanic women’s median weekly earnings in 2019 were $642, compared with $704 for Black women and $910 for white women, according to an analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Black and Hispanic women also held many of the retail and hospitality jobs that were badly hit by the pandemic, though the sectors registered some recovery in the past month.

Lower pay results in less money for daily expenses as well as less for savings, investing and funding one’s retirement, said

Lazetta Rainey Braxton,

a financial planner in Brooklyn, N.Y.

A recent study by Capital Group, to be released later this year, found that women of color were more likely than other women to use their Covid-19 relief checks to pay for basic necessities and bills rather than add the funds to savings accounts.

They may also be more likely to financially support family during times of crisis, which further pressures their finances. Nearly 30% of affluent Black women and Latinas financially supported friends and family in 2020, compared with 11% of affluent white women, according to a December study from J.P. Morgan Wealth Management.

Many also are less likely to receive the benefit of an inheritance. Sixty-eight percent of Black women neither have nor expect an inheritance compared with 39% of white women, according to a February study of Black investors by Charles Schwab and Ariel Investments.

These factors affect the ability to invest: 34% of Black women own individual stocks compared with 43% of white women, Charles Schwab and Ariel Investments found. So Black Americans aren’t benefiting from stock-market growth at the same rate as white Americans at similar income levels.

“Black people have had to do things like borrow from their 401(k), deplete their savings and defer their student loans more than their white counterparts during this period. Therefore, the racial wealth gap is getting even wider,” said

Mellody Hobson,

co-chief executive and president of Ariel Investments.

Portia Alyce Lawrence doesn’t want to accept help from her brothers. ‘As a single Black woman, I count on myself,’ she said.



Photo:

Courtney Coles for the Wall Street Journal

Portia Alyce Lawrence

is one of those feeling the pinch.

The Los Angeles resident, in her 50s, was furloughed from her national sales manager job at the Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau in March. She was laid off permanently in September from the job, which she worked remotely.

Before the pandemic, her emergency fund had grown to cover two years of living expenses—a notably larger account size compared with the roughly six months some financial advisers recommend.

Since last spring, she has had to do something she always worked to avoid: tap into her emergency account. Intellectually, she knows that using the money for an extended job loss is the purpose of such an account. Yet emotionally, she feels that using the funds chips away at the financial independence she worked decades to build.

She is now down to about eight months of emergency savings. Her brothers have offered to lend her money, but she doesn’t want to accept their help.

“As a single Black woman, I count on myself,” she said.

Write to Veronica Dagher at [email protected]

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