The Long History of Redlining Makes Covid-19 Worse for Black Americans

Health effects of racist housing policy persist 80 years later

Photo: Getty Images

The data makes it painfully clear that Black Americans have been hit hardest by the coronavirus. Black people in the U.S., according to the Covid Racial Data Tracker, are dying at a rate 2.4 times higher than that of white people. In June, research showed that 31% of Black adults in the U.S. said they personally knew someone who had died from the coronavirus while only 17% of Hispanic and 9% of white people said the same.

There are many reasons why Black people are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, including economic inequality and long-standing health care disparities. It’s also been proposed that the sickle cell mutation, which largely affects Black Americans, might play a role too. Now, new research suggests that the history of racist housing policy in the U.S. may also be a factor.

A new report released by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), a nonprofit fighting to end discrimination in lending, housing, and business, shows that people in neighborhoods that were redlined over 80 years ago are at a higher risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19. Redlining was a widespread government practice in the 1930s that excluded minorities from living in certain neighborhoods, forcing them into other, less-desirable ones. While this practice is technically outlawed today, the neighborhoods it created still persist — as do the negative health effects linked to their geography. Even now, redlined neighborhoods continue to face increased pollution, decreased access to healthy food, and widespread poverty.

The new report, authored by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health and the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, shows that people in redlined neighborhoods have a higher incidence of chronic illnesses, like asthma, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney disease, obesity, and stroke. As a result, they are more vulnerable to the severe effects of Covid-19. According to the report, life expectancy in redlined neighborhoods is 3.6 years shorter than that in areas that were marked as desirable when the government practiced redlining.

The report not only sheds light on the present crisis faced by Black Americans but also warns that the situation will not improve until the underlying structural racism is addressed. “It is no surprise that the Covid-19 pandemic has made existing racial health inequities devastatingly clear,” co-author Helen Meier, PhD, MPH, at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, said in a release. “Health inequities will persist until we address the legacy of racism in the housing market.”

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.

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