BALTIMORE — At first, Minyanna Farmer thought the LinkedIn message from a recruiter was spam. She couldn’t imagine she could work from home and increase her salary by 80%.

But when it turned out to be real, the Forest Park resident didn’t think twice, accepting the offer to become senior manager of relationship marketing for BETMGM, an online gaming and sports betting website in New Jersey, and giving her a six-figure salary — a first in her career.

“There have been some silver linings in this mess of a pandemic,” said Farmer, who was laid off from Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore during the pandemic.

One surprise of the coronavirus pandemic is how it demonstrated the effectiveness of remote work and telecommuting, which has opened labor markets and hiring pools to wider geographical areas. That’s benefited some Black women in Maryland, who have been able to secure better-paying jobs from areas offering higher salaries.

Thanks to telecommuting, they can continue to live in Maryland, without a costly move, and retain more money and build wealth — an area where Black families traditionally trail white Americans. According to a 2016 Brookings Institution report, the net worth of a typical white family ($171,000) was nearly 10 times that of a Black family ($17,150).

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Working from the comforts of their own homes and living near their social networks and families during a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged their communities, they are better financially situated, which they say is better for their overall health.

“This has definitely helped me better plan for my future. It definitely makes me feel like I am on the right track as far as my career and my professional trajectory,” Farmer said.

Income gap

In 2021, women make $0.82 for every dollar a man makes, which is 1 cent more than they made in 2020, according to PayScale Inc., an organization that analyzes compensation data. Black women rank the lowest of all ethnic and gender groups when it comes to controlled lifetime earnings when job characteristics are equal, according to 2020 data from the group.

Farmer, 40, immediately noticed what the bigger paycheck meant to her mental health and her ability to better save and provide for her family.

“I’ll be able to afford to straighten out business that had been neglected for many years,” she said, explaining that this additional money will allow her to pay for a lawyer to work out some details concerning a piece of land her family owns. “I can get the ball rolling on this property so it can make money for us.”

The additional income allowed Farmer to take her extended family on an RV trip to South Carolina last summer. She also went to the Caribbean to celebrate her birthday in April.

“I do love a trip, child,” Farmer laughed.

Telecommuting has become a way for people to make more money during the pandemic, according to Alex Marré, regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

“Gaining access to more labor markets, you are able to expand the number of jobs that you can apply to and reduce the costs of finding the work and traveling to the work,” he said. “It will allow them to find better labor matches in the market.”

More seek opportunities

Marré said he has heard anecdotally of “more and more” people taking advantage of remote opportunities. But because it is relatively a new phenomenon, there is little quantified data at this point.

“Moving forward this is going to be a game-changer for folks who are looking to widen the scope of jobs available to them,” he said.

From increased productivity to improved work-life balance and the reductions of stress, telecommuting has resulted in numerous benefits for workers who are lucky enough to work in professions offering it, according to John Michel, an associate professor of management at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business.

Telecommuting allows employees to maintain a lower cost of living while they work in another city without sacrificing the support network at home, Michel explained.

“The people who take the risk of working hundreds of miles away usually have this infrastructure,” he said. “If you can do that, there is no reason why this can’t be done and why this can’t be a huge benefit.”

Jeremy Schwartz, associate professor of economics at Loyola University, said he was encouraged to hear that Black women were making strides during this time. But he suggested that because of existing inequalities between white and Black people — education, housing, exclusion from credit, and ownership of resources — that white people could take advantage of this same phenomenon at greater levels.

“My hesitancy is whether these opportunities are being equally shared among all members of our community,” he said. “Or are we in a situation where more white families have more access to this than African American families?”

'My money is doing something'

Telecommuting allowed Stacy Reed, 31, to move back home to Maryland during the pandemic while maintaining her job in Las Vegas with online retailer Zappos as a paid social advertising senior coordinator.

Despite a higher cost of living in Maryland, the Elkridge resident is now making more money. Working from home on East Coast time has allowed her to launch a side business, a podcast called High on Self Care, which delves into self-care and cannabis use. And she’s able to save money thanks to revenue from the podcasts and money not spent because of the pandemic.

“I have been able to save, and I have diverted it to investing,” Reed said. “My money is now diversified. Now, I have the space to think about this extra income, my money is doing something as opposed to sitting in my account.”

The ability to telecommute allowed Tia Newton to balance four clients as a freelance creative director during the pandemic, which quadrupled her income. Her savings grew by 70% and she purchased a home in Union Square and a rental property.

None of this would have been possible without the opportunities created as a result of the new working policies created by the pandemic, she said.

“It’s great,” said Newton, 37, who works for four companies including the Sean “Diddy” Combs-led Revolt TV. “I don’t have to live in L.A. An L.A. salary can take you further in Baltimore. I bought two houses. I save exponentially here. I get more space.”

Telecommuting enabled Newton to be near her sister’s two children, ages 6 and 7, whom she provides day care for while her sister attempts to launch a small-batch artisan ice cream and dessert company, Sydney Loves Ice Cream.

“As long as I can stay here, as long as humanly possible, I will do that,” Newton said. “I want to be as close to home as possible. I couldn’t imagine being isolated in a place like L.A.”

Nearer to family

Being able to be back in Maryland near family has been a key for Reed.

“There is nothing like the feeling of seeing your family in person,” Reed said. “It’s different than seeing them over video. Being here trying to help my parents get their vaccines, these are the things I was not able to do being away.”

It also allowed Reed to take advantage of the “little things” that she took for granted.

“It’s the spontaneity of being able to see your people,” she said. “It’s about being able to have Maryland food. I missed crabs. Crabs were so expensive in Las Vegas.”

As a creative, Newton said working from home has allowed her to flourish — resulting in better work and a better mental state.

“Creatives are thriving working from home,” Newton said. “There are less distractions. People are not coming up to your desk and tapping you on the shoulder.”

Newton and the other women interviewed hope that telecommuting remains an option after the pandemic. All of them said that their employers have not made definitive decisions on their long-term telecommuting policies.

“I have no clue when — or if — I need to relocate to Los Angeles,” Newton said. “I’m just rolling with it.”

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