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A new poll finds 2 out of every 5 Black women in California are just one paycheck away from financial instability.

The first-of-its-kind survey of 1,258 Black women across the state revealed 37% work two or more jobs — and 62% of them said the second job is “essential” and they would “not be able to make ends meet” without it.

The Evitarus research firm polled the women last spring for the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute, a research nonprofit in Carson, near Long Beach.

The findings could be important for political strategists. Of the Black women surveyed, more than 80% voted in the November 2020 elections.

In general, the results quantify how Black women’s views on politics, economics, family issues and everyday life may vary from other demographic groups.

For instance, nearly a third of the Black women surveyed said they had experienced emotional or psychological abuse in the prior 12 months. And half said they feel unsafe when interacting with law enforcement.

Survey respondents also listed their top concerns as discrimination, financial instability and health disparities.

“We show up for everyone,” said Kellie Tom Griffin, president of the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment, during an online presentation of the study last week.

“Black women in California are engaged and connected, and yet … they are struggling socially and economically while serving as the primary breadwinners of their households.”

No trickle down

More than 75% of Black households are headed by single Black mothers, and in 80% of Black households women are the breadwinners, according to a separate 2022 report by the collective.

About 1.1 million Black women live in California, according to a Census Bureau estimate. Women and girls represent 51% of the state’s Black population.

Some of the survey’s eye-opening findings reveal burdens Black women face:

  • 2 in 5 Black women find it challenging to pay for basic expenses
  • 4 in 5 Black women report difficulty dealing with inflation
  • 8 in 10 Black women report a top concern is being discriminated against or mistreated because of their race or gender
  • 4 in 10 Black women said racism and discrimination have limited their income and earning capacity

These results indicate that the Legislature’s policies aimed at protecting women aren’t necessarily helping Black women, said Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Democrat from Suisun City who serves as chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

“It’s not really trickling down to Black women,” she said after the presentation, “and what (this data) shows is we have a whole segment of our population that is missing out.”

Wilson said she plans to discuss the survey results with her colleagues in the Legislature as they debate budget priorities.

What matters is how we as a community use the insights of Black women to inform our own thinking,”  added Thomas Parham, president of California State University, Dominguez Hills.  “Despite facing significant economic and social burdens, Black women continue to lead our families, our communities, and in the Democratic process.”

The poll is the first public project of the California Black Women’s Think Tank. Created by the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute, it is housed at Cal State, Dominguez Hills. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation last year funding the think tank with $5 million.

Griffin said the California Black Women’s Collective Empowerment Institute will make policy recommendations based on the findings, with an eye toward equal pay for equal work, making housing affordable and protecting Black women and girls from violence.

Newsom over Harris

Researchers also polled the women on their opinions of certain state and federal elected officials, finding 73% had a favorable opinion of Newsom — higher than the 69% favorable opinion of the Democratic Party and the 66% who viewed Vice President Kamala Harris favorably.

Presentation participants did not comment on the political results. Newsom’s office declined comment, and his campaign spokesperson did not respond to CalMatters’ request for comment.

The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percentage points, said Shakari Byerly, Evitarus’ managing partner.

John Nienstedt, who runs Competitive Edge Research & Communications, a pollster commonly used by San Diego-area Republican candidates, said he appreciates the effort and intent of the study.

“It’s important to inform policy — in this case on the challenges faced by Black women — by gathering solid data in order to make evidence-based policy decisions,” Nienstedt said.

He said his firm’s research of San Diego County residents generally supports the statewide findings.

“For example, our barometer shows the Black community is more impacted by the rising cost of living than other communities of color and whites,” he added.

Nienstedt said one drawback of Evitarus’ findings was a lack of reference points to other groups.

“In other words, the challenges being faced by Black women voters may be very different, or no different, than those being faced by other groups,” he said, “but the research can’t tell us that. Without that information, it’s difficult to justify targeting policy proposals to Black women.”

‘I am tired’

Evitarus researchers also included personal comments by survey participants which, they said, further highlight the need to study this population of voters.

“I am at my limit,” said a 21-year-old Los Angeles resident. “Every turn is a blockade because I am a Black Woman … I am a high-performing individual and cannot get ahead. Banks don’t loan to us. Corporations tokenize us, and often only consider us when it comes to DEI marketing … I don’t have access to quality healthcare, includ(ing) mental health. I am tired.”

DEI refers to diversity, equity and inclusion, often a catch-all term to describe policies and programs that promote representation and participation of people from various minority groups.

In the survey, a 64-year-old Black woman in Los Angeles listed her concerns: “unsafe public transportation, being able to find an affordable car … finding a Black female physician … (I) need to see a doctor for health and I’m worried about illness.”

She added that physicians “are dismissive of Black women over 50.”

A 38-year-old woman from the Inland Empire said her family still struggles with the pandemic’s aftereffects.

“There was little to no help with the long-term effects from Covid,” she said. “I lost my business and while there was a lot of support for larger businesses, there was little for small businesses, which feed our families. We have been struggling since as the bills continue to climb.”

Byerly said her research shows women in rural California were more harmed by inflation and rising housing costs than women elsewhere.

“One of the things that’s most striking about these findings is the heavy burden, particularly on women in rural areas, notably in the Central Valley and Sacramento and far northern region, as well as younger women,” she said.