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. People of color and low-income individuals 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 will be no different.
People of color 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 people of color.
In fact, preliminary data from several states and big cities indicates the coronavirus is infecting and killing Black/African Americans at a disproportionately high rate.
These disparities make people of color more vulnerable to the virus from a health perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Compounding this are health care disparities people of color face, 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, and language barriers, the Commonwealth Fund reports.
Further, a history of segregation has led to people of color living in densely populated urban areas where COVID-19 is more widespread, according to the Pew Research Center.
A higher percentage of Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx work in at-risk industries than whites, suggesting they are more likely to become unemployed and lose their source of income.
Currently, five industries employ 27 million people where the jobs are most at risk. These include leisure and hospitality, transportation, employment services, mining, and travel arrangements.
Quartz estimates that 12.5% of non-Hispanic/Latinx whites work in these at-risk industries compared with 17.6% of Hispanic/Latinx and 16.8% of Black/African Americans. These groups are more likely to be laid off or face reduced hours during the current crisis. In some cases, these jobs may not come back.
Typical households of color face significant income and wealth disparities, which increases their financial vulnerability and makes it more challenging to weather economic downturns.
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/African American households, and $87,194 for Asian households. This income disparity has persisted since the late 1960s.
These same groups also face significant wealth disparities. For example, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latinx households account for a mere 14% of U.S. household wealth yet represent approximately 32% of U.S. households, according to the Federal Reserve.
Further, research conducted by the Pew Research Center finds that households of color 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.
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