SOUTHBURY — Economic Disparities of Covid-19 on the Black Community was the central discussion during a webinar series program on Wednesday, July 1, hosted by Kevin Bielmeier, the town’s economic development director.

Southbury resident Shawn Rochester, CEO of Good Steward LLC, founder of PHD Enterprises and the IDEA Institute, spoke on economic factors and how race-related health inequalities affect several disadvantaged groups.

He specifically discussed black communities in the U.S., which have been hit hard by the pandemic, detailing the socio-economic factors and financial costs that have contributed.

A solution he offered is supporting local black-owned businesses and becoming better educated and informed on the issues. 

He said people need to look at areas where black communities are missing or their voices are not heard and need to be intentional with their support.

Mr. Rochester shared statistics to demonstrate the disparities, noting that black business ownership in the U.S. dropped by 41 percent between February and April of this year, compared to only a 17 percent drop in white business ownership.

He also highlighted black business owners are under-represented, “Making up about 7 percent of the 15 million small businesses owners who were working in February before the coronavirus, compared to the 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2019.

“Black business owners had fewer resource to fall back on when the pandemic struck,” Mr. Rochester explained.

Citing statistics, he reported, “some 21 percent were financially distressed at the end of 2019 based on their profitability, credit score and earnings, compared to just 5 percent of white-owned businesses.” 

He added there have been long-standing wealth disparities in the U.S. black community that can leave black entrepreneurs with fewer funds to fall back on during a downturn.

“There are high levels of black bias today even though many people think we are in a post-racial environment, that we should be on a different terrain,” said Mr. Rochester. “But there is a ton of research that has been done about the levels of anti-black bias that exist in the electorate and as a population as a whole. It’s extraordinarily high.”

He said some researchers put numbers at above 50 percent, citing a Harvard study that researched racial bias. He also pointed to a University of Chicago study on racial bias found in the job search market that documented that ethnic-sounding names on resumes are more likely to be passed over despite the applicant having the proper qualifications.

“You need eight years of experience to overcome the name hurdle,” said Mr. Rochester.

Mr. Rochester gave a historical breakdown of the lack of economic relief for the black community that included coming out of slavery with no economic resources. 

Black families settled on small lots on plantations after slavery ended; however, conditions were set by white farmers, according to Mr. Rochester. 

Families were given items, but on credit, which would have to be paid back to the plantation owner, so there was no way to accumulate wealth.

He said the GI Bill did not assist black veterans who have served due local racial biases and refusal to assist black residents. 

Some 60 million soldiers returned from World War II and benefited from the bill with funding for education, job training and housing subsidies, but less than 2 percent of black soldiers saw the benefits or resources.

“It’s difficult to participate when you’re not allowed to actually participate,” said Mr. Rochester. “How do you accumulate wealth under those circumstances?”

Ed Edelson, a former Southbury first selectman, said Southbury is the direct beneficiary of programs like Federal Housing Authority mortgages and interstate highways as well as the GI Bill. 

He added the benefits allowed white people leave the cities, like Waterbury, and start a new community while leaving minorities behind with aging infrastructure, pollution and reduced public funding.

Mr. Rochester speculated current racial bias plays a role on justice, education, the health field, housing and the type of implications the black community faces. 

Mr. Bielmeier questioned why there is a great disparity in the black community during the pandemic, based on the data, noting it is something that needs to be analyzed thoroughly.

“If you are a capitalist then discrimination is horrible for business,” said Mr. Rochester.

He said discrimination means the brilliance of other populations is not added to the team, the business infrastructure or the creative process. 

Mr. Edelson added during the conversation and comments component of the webinar, the need to discuss what policies Southbury could implement to improve black business ownership.

Mr. Rochester is the author of “The Black Tax: The Cost of Being Black in America” which goes into further depth of the massive financial burden on Black American households and discusses further information on economic disparities. 

He is a sought-after speaker who has spoken on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and at universities and the United Nations. 

He discusses “the staggering financial costs of discrimination and offers a new economic framework to help create millions of jobs and businesses that are missing from the black community.”

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