This article was updated on June 3, 2020.
We may be tempted to put our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work aside until the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis subsides, but our work to advance DEI is needed now more than ever to help vulnerable members and staff weather the COVID-19 crisis.
When there’s a crisis, society’s most vulnerable tend to be hit the hardest. Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income people are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 crisis.
Due to a history of segregation, redlining, implicit bias, and structural racism, people of color in all socioeconomic levels “tend to benefit least from a strong U.S. economy, and suffer the most when the economy falls into recession,” according to a new CUNA white paper. This time around is no different.
Black, Brown, and Indigenous people already face significant health disparities, making them more vulnerable to the novel coronavirus. Structural and environmental racism have resulted in significant disparities in chronic health conditions, including a higher incidence of diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and maternal mortality among Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. In general, they experience worse health outcomes, including premature death, compared to Whites, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Compounding this are health care disparities this group faces, including a higher risk of being uninsured—Hispanic/Latinx are two and a half times more likely to be uninsured than Whites (19.0% vs. 4.3%)—less access to care, language barriers, and discrimination embedded in health care systems. In addition, it is well-documented that low-income rural populations also face significant health disparities often due to lack of health insurance and access to care.
These health disparities make Black, Brown, and Indigenous people more vulnerable to the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and a report from PBS News Hour. In fact, according to an analysis by the American Public Media Research Lab of data from the 39 states and the District of Columbia that are reporting the race and ethnicity of residents who have died from COVID-19, African Americans are dying at a disproportionately high rate compared to other groups and higher than their proportion of the population. While African Americans make up 13% of the population in these places, they represent 27% of the COVID-19 deaths for which race is known. Hispanics or Latinx represent 18% of the population in these areas and around 16% of the deaths and Whites comprise 62% of the population and 49% of the deaths. Finally, Asian Americans make up 5% of the population and 5% of the deaths.
Further, a history of housing discrimination and segregation has led to Black and Brown people living in densely populated urban areas where the coronavirus is more widespread and research finds that it is harder to social distance.
Black and Brown workers’ lives and livelihoods are also at a higher risk due to COVID-19 because they work in higher risk jobs. They’re either higher risk because they’re deemed essential, which increases their exposure to the virus and puts their lives at risk or because a disproportionate share of them work in industries that are at the highest risk for job losses due to COVID-19, putting their livelihoods at risk. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that Black workers comprise 11.9% of all employees in the U.S., but 17% of frontline workers. In New York City, 75% of all frontline workers are Black and Brown people. This is contributing to the disproportionate rate of death where Black and Latino people in New York City are dying at twice the rate of Whites.
Moreover, a poll conducted by ABC News and The Washington Post finds higher rates of job losses among low-income workers, Black and Brown people, and women without college degrees. Indeed, April data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that while White unemployment in the U.S. hit 14.2% (up from 4.0% in March), it reached 16.7% for Black/African Americans (up from 6.7% in March) and 18.9% for Hispanic/Latinx (up from 6.0% in March).
COVID-19 is also having a disproportionate economic impact on the poorest. A Gallup poll finds that 95% of workers in low-income households—those making less than $36,000 per year—have been laid off (37%) or lost income (58%) due to the coronavirus outbreak. While middle and upper-income households have also experienced economic disruption, it is much less compared to low-income workers. For example, nearly 40% of workers whose household income is between $90,000 and $180,000 have been laid off (12%) or lost income (26%).
A similar poll by the Morning Consult finds that a higher percentage of Black/African American adults (44%) and Hispanic/Latinx adults (61%) say they have either taken a pay cut or lost a job or both due to the pandemic compared to Whites (38%).
We also know that typical households of color face significant income and wealth disparities, which increases their financial vulnerability and makes it more challenging to weather economic downturns. For example, the latest data available from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance shows that the typical White household’s wealth ($171,000) is ten times that of the typical Black household’s wealth ($17,400) and over eight times that of the typical Hispanic/Latinx household’s wealth ($20,400).
A recent U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in 2018, U.S. median household income reached an all-time high of $63,179. But not all groups did equally well.
The median household income was $70,642 for White households, $51,450 for Hispanic/Latinx households, $41,361 for Black households, and $87,194 for Asian households. This income disparity has persisted since the late 1960s. To compound this, a survey by Morning Consult for CUNA finds that a higher percentage of Hispanic/Latinx (57%), Black/African Americans (63%) say their income has been impacted by COVID-19.
Further, research conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that Black and Brown households are particularly vulnerable when faced with financial emergencies. For example, a typical White household has slightly more than one month’s income in liquid savings while typical Hispanic/Latinx and Black/African American households have just 12 and five days’ worth, respectively, Pew reports. It’s not surprising then, that the Morning Consult survey finds that while nearly a quarter of all adults (24%) are concerned about making their minimum bill payments during the COVID-19 crisis, a higher percentage of low-income adults (37%) and Black adults (36%) and more than half of adults in the “other” racial group (52%) say that they are concerned about being able to pay the minimum on their bills.
Taken together, this data suggests the typical household of color will be especially challenged by the COVID-19 recession.
NEXT: Using DEI to shape our COVID-19 response