COVID-19 and race

May 1, 2020

COVID-19 has had an impact on almost all of us. We’ve had to change how we work, socialize, practice our faith, and recreate. But for communities of color, these impacts can be devastating.

According to data released last week by Johns Hopkins University, African Americans are much more likely to get sick and die of COVID-19. In New York City, African Americans are dying of COVID at twice the rate of total population. Seventy percent of the people dying of COVID-19 in Chicago, Louisiana, Milwaukee, and St. Louis were African Americans. In Washington, Latinx people represented 29% of confirmed cases, even though they are only 13% of the population. Black people made up 7% of confirmed cases, but make up only 4% of the population. Non-Hispanic Whites represented 50% of the confirmed cases, yet they make up 68% of the total population in Washington.

And while COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, these data paint a clear picture that the effects of COVID-19 are revealing long standing historical racism that has impacted African American communities more than others. Underlying health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and asthma can mean the difference between recovery and death.

African Americans, people of color and immigrants are more likely to…

  • Work essential jobs;
  • Hold jobs where working from home is not an option;
  • Live in neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food, clean air and water, and safe recreation opportunities; and
  • Lack access to quality, affordable health care, free of racial bias.

All of these factors increase the likelihood of getting sick and dying. Add to the health impacts, the economic impacts. The pandemic triggered this economic crash, but years of a widening wealth gap, and systemic racism primed America for this crisis. While the CARES Act has provided some relief by extending sick leave benefits to certain employees, increasing unemployment benefits, and providing one-time stimulus checks, we are far away from addressing the glaring racial and economic disparities COVID-19 has made impossible to ignore.

Workers and families of color, gig and contract workers, workers with disabilities, immigrant and refugee communities, undocumented workers and families, and others who disproportionately have been left behind in wage growth, sick leave protections, and other critical labor policies, are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis. Solutions must be deliberately inclusive. Some members of Congress are proposing hopeful legislation that begins to address some disparities.

Coronavirus Immigrant Families Protection Act: This bill will ensure that all families regardless of immigration status can access resources related to COVID-19 relief.

Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act: Would move immigrants out of detention and halt immigration enforcement against individuals not deemed a significant public safety risk during the coronavirus crisis and future public health emergencies.

Paycheck Guarantee Act: Would end mass layoffs, keep workers employed with health insurance and other benefits, and helps prevent large numbers of employers from being forced to close permanently.

Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act: A national paid leave program would allow people to receive a portion of their pay when they need time away from their jobs for family or medical reasons – resulting in significant benefits for their families, businesses and our economy.

This crisis exposed the health and economic injustice we, as a society, have ignored for too long. Now more than ever, we need leadership and courage to create healthy, diverse and welcoming communities, where all people thrive.

By Janice Deguchi, Executive Director