Why Covid-19 Is Hitting Black Americans Hardest
Economic inequality and health care disparities are creating a deadly divide
A new poll underscores the pandemic’s stark racial divide in the United States: Black Americans are far more likely to personally know someone who has died from Covid-19 complications than white Americans.
According to a nationwide survey conducted between June 9 and 14 by the Washington Post and market research company Ipsos, 31% of Black adults say they know someone firsthand who has died from the virus, compared with 17% of adults who are Hispanic and 9% who are white. Among the Black Americans polled, 83% said it’s more important to control the spread of the coronavirus, even if it hurts the economy.
Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says the reasons why communities of color are disproportionately affected by Covid-19 come down to a deadly combination of economic inequalities and long-standing health care disparities.
In the United States, Benjamin says people of color face a higher risk of exposure to the virus because they’re less likely to be able to work from their homes and are more likely to have lower-wage jobs that require them to come into contact with more people. “You get this disease from other people,” Benjamin said in an interview. “So that means if you’re out and about and exposed to a lot of people, the odds are against you.”
According to a June 1 report from the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, Black workers makeup about one in nine U.S. workers overall, representing about 12%, but they make up one in six of all frontline-industry workers — and in certain industries, they’re disproportionately represented. For instance, Black people makeup about 14% of grocery, convenience, and drug store workers; 26% of public transit workers; 18% of trucking, warehouse, and postal service workers; and 18% of health care, childcare, and social services workers.
“While, in the near term, this protects them from job loss, it exposes them to greater likelihood of contracting Covid-19 while performing their jobs,” concludes the report.