|COVID-19 hits African Americans hardest
By City Mayors Research *
ON THIS PAGE: Inequality exposes African Americans to greater risk ||| COVID-19 hits black Americans hardest ||| Reports from US cities ||| Poverty among African Americans ||| Health and medical insurance ||| Segregation and Housing ||| Employment ||| Working from home ||| Research sources |||
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|Inequality exposes black Americans
to greater risk of COVID-19 infection
May 2020: America’s black communities are among the hardest hit by the CoronaVirus pandemic. The numbers are stark. The impact of COVID-19 on African Americans has been extraordinary and disproportionate. Almost one-third of infections nationwide have affected black Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, though Blacks represent only 13 per cent of the US population. Associated Press adds that nearly one-third of those who have died across the country are black.
Systemic racial inequality continues to exist in the US. The neighbourhoods where most African Americans live, the jobs they have, the prevalence of health conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes and the way they are treated by the medical professions have all contributed to the disproportionate numbers of infections and deaths among Blacks.
There is broad agreement among America’s health professionals that poverty, inadequate access to health services, poor housing and residential segregation as well as hazardous working conditions have all contributed towards the higher number of CoronaVirus cases and related fatalities among the country’s black population. Below, City Mayors Research provides an overview of how Blacks continue to be disadvantaged in today’s America and thus be more vulnerable to a pandemic outbreak.
COVID-19 hits black Americans hardest
In Louisiana, a COVID-19 epicentre, more than 70 per cent of those who died were African-American, despite them accounting for only 33 per cent of the state’s population. In Alabama, black Americans account for 44 per cent of CoronaVirus related deaths and 26 per cent of the population. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, black people accounted for 81 per cent of deaths but make up just 26 per cent of the population. Michigan, another state with a high number of COVID-19 cases, reported that African Americans accounted for roughly 40 per cent of deaths but make up only 14 per cent of the population. Similar disparities are playing out across the whole country, including New York, Washington DC and many southern states.
African Americans are disproportionally affected by COVID-19
Reports from US cities
New York City
Black people in New York City are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 infection as white Americans. Figures released by the city's Health Department show the devastating impact the pandemic has on New York's African American communities, where residents are dying from the virus more than any other racial group. In New York City, about 55 per cent of front line workers, including grocery store workers, taxi drivers, delivery workers and care workers are black and brown. “It is tragic, but should not come as a surprise that the epidemic has most impact on the most vulnerable.”
Blacks have been found to have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and smoking-related deaths than whites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also, they are more likely to not see a doctor because of cost, CDC data shows. These underlying health conditions coupled with a lack of access to affordable healthcare puts blacks at greater risk. There’s something about the context in which people live, the inequalities in society, that render some groups more susceptible to the same exposure. Black people account for nine per cent of LA County’s population but 17 per cent of COVID-19 related fatalities occurred among African Americans.
COVID-19 has spared some neighbourhoods but ravaged others. Race and class spell the difference. Chicago has been held up as an example of how the outbreak has disproportionately affected communities of colour. Some 56 per cent of the city’s deaths have been among African American, though they make up just 30 per cent of the city’s population. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the numbers were troubling and a stark reminder of the deep-seated issues, which have long created disparate health impacts in communities across Chicago.
In the America’s capital, 81 per cent of the fatalities have been among African Americans, according the city mayor’s website, in a city whose population is 46 per cent African American. Many of the deaths are in the city’s poorest and predominantly African American neighbourhoods.
Nearly 57 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Louisiana have been among African Americans, though they make up only one third of the state’s population.
In Milwaukee, a city that is only 39 per cent African American, 72 per cent of the COVID-19 related deaths have been among African Americans,.
In this city of 75,000 people 150 miles south of Atlanta, 90 per cent of the COVID-19 deaths have been among African Americans in a town that is 72.5 per cent black. Authorities said they believe two funerals and possibly the annual Snickers Marathon in the first week of March, which hosted 1,000 runners, contributed to the spread.
Shelby County with Memphis
Some 71 per cent of fatalities are Africans Americans, who make up half the population.
Poverty among African Americans
In the US, more than one in every eight (or 12.7%) Americans, approximately 40 million people, live in poverty and almost half of those - 18.5 million - in abysmal poverty. In 2016, 18 per cent of children - some 13.3 million - were living in poverty, with children comprising 32.6 per cent of all people in poverty. In the OECD, the US ranks 35th out of 37 in terms of poverty and inequality. (To officially be deemed as poor, an individual’s income must not exceed $13,300 per annum. The poverty threshold for a family of four is $26,370 pa.)
Poverty does not strike all demographics equally. For example, in 2018, 10.6 per cent of men, and 12.9 per cent of women lived in poverty. The poverty rate for married couples in 2018 was only 4.7 per cent - but the poverty rate for single-parent families with no wife present was 12.7 per cent and for single-parent families with no husband present was 24.9 per cent. In 2018, the poverty rate for people living with a disability was 25.7 per cent, meaning nearly four million people with a disability are living in poverty.
According to US Census Data, the poverty rate is highest among Native Americans (25.4 per cent). The poverty rate among African Americans is the second highest (20.8 per cent), while Hispanics (of any race) have the third highest poverty rate (17.6 per cent). The poverty rate among Whites and Asians is 10.1 per cent.
US poverty by race / ethnicity
Health and medical insurance
While the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA), colloquially known as ObamaCare, created new health coverage options that provided an opportunity to narrow longstanding racial and ethnic disparities in health coverage, it has been weakened since the Trump administration came to office in 2017.
Percentage of Americans (aged 0-65)
WITHOUT health insurance
Prior to the ACA, people of colour were
significantly less likely to be insured than Whites.
In 2010, when the ACA was enacted, 46.5 million people or 17.8 per cent of the total non-elderly US population were uninsured. People of colour were at much higher risk of being uninsured compared to Whites, with Hispanics and Native Americans at the highest risk of lacking coverage. The higher uninsured rates among groups of colour reflected limited access to affordable health coverage options.
There were large coverage gains
for groups of colour under the ACA
Coverage rates increased for all racial/ethnic groups between 2010 and 2016, with the largest increases occurring after implementation of the ACA Medicaid and Marketplace coverage expansions in 2014. Hispanics had the largest percentage point decrease in their uninsured rate, which fell from 32.6 per cent to 19.1 per cent between 2010 and 2016. Blacks, Asians, and American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIANs) also had larger percentage point decreases in their uninsured rates compared to Whites over that period. Since President Donald Trump took office in 2017, coverage gains stalled and began reversing for some groups, with small but statistically significant increases in the uninsured rates for Whites and Blacks, which rose from 7.1% to 7.5% and from 10.7% to 11.5% respectively.
In the US, black Americans are more likely than whites to suffer from
chronic diseases that increase the risk of mortality from COVID-19
Segregation and Housing
No specific discrimination affects African Americans’ access to health care, education and wealth more than housing segregation. Even after more than 50 years of the passage of the Fair Housing Act black-white segregation remains prevalent in the US. Data drawn from the US Census Bureau’s 2010 2014 American Community Survey shows that segregation has only slightly declined in the largest metropolitan areas. Analysis by the Brookings Institution indicates that racial integration is just not happening in a meaningful way in large cities.
While many racial, ethnic, and economic groups remain segregated in American society, the separation between African Americans and whites stands out.
A standard measure of segregation indicates the percentage of blacks that would have to change neighbourhoods to match the distribution of whites. It ranges from zero (complete integration) to 100 (complete segregation). When applied to the nation’s 52 largest metropolitan areas with at least 20,000 black residents, most show segregation levels between 50 and 70. Brookings explains that while far below the near-apartheid racial separation that existed for much of America’s history, these are still high measures: More than half of blacks would need to move to achieve complete integration.
The metropolitan areas with the highest level of segregation include Milwaukee with a score of 81, New York City / Newark (77), Chicago (76), Detroit (75), Cleveland (74), Los Angeles / Anaheim (68), Philadelphia (68), Boston / Cambridge (66), Rochester (65), New Orleans (65), Miami / Fort Lauderdale (65), Atlanta (59), Dallas / Fort Worth (58). Cities with scores below 50 include Las Vegas (40), Raleigh (42) and Tucson (44).
Where people live affects so much of their lives - their access to education, employment, and health care. Black-white segregation has contributed significantly to the enormous wealth gap between these races, and their grossly unequal access to opportunities that whites take for granted.
A report by The American Prospect found that the unemployment rate for black men aged 25 to 34 was 17.4 per cent in highly segregated areas, compared with only 10.1 per cent in moderately segregated areas. Unemployment was 3.48 times the level of non-Hispanic whites in highly segregated areas, but 1.44 times the level of non-Hispanic whites in moderately segregated areas. Earnings for black men aged 25 to 34 were $4,000 higher in moderately segregated areas than in highly segregated areas.
The report by American Prospect strongly disagrees with the assertion that segregation was a “natural desire for ‘birds of a feather’ to flock together. It says “segregation in America was deliberately imposed by government.” “Segregation was and is best understood as a tool used to promote and preserve white supremacy, deployed to make it easier to isolate, divest from, surveil, and police black (and brown) people concentrated in certain communities. The ‘brilliance’ of this racist tool is that its evil use creates its own justification. As communities of colour suffer under the deprivations that come with segregation, those who build and install resilient and enduring racist systems that sustain segregation explain their decisions in terms of protecting and promoting safety, strong schools and stable housing markets.”
Black people, more so than white people, prefer integrated neighbourhoods and schools. A Pew survey found that 68 per cent of African Americans believe that students should go to schools that are racially and ethnically mixed, even if it meant some students don’t go to school in their local community, compared to just 35 per cent of whites.
Black Americans are disproportionally employed in occupations that require close contact with members of the public and thus pose a high risk of infection to themselves and others. While Blacks account for only 12.3 per cent of the total US workforce, services such as urban transport, health and social services rely heavily on their contributions. Almost one third of employees working for America’s urban transport systems are black. More than 30 per cent of health visitors are black. And, more than a quarter of Americans working in postal services and driving taxis are black. African Americans are underrepresented in management, legal and financial services as well as in the media.
Employment of African Americans
in selected industries (in %)
Working from home
During the CoronaVirus crisis, US authorities have urged companies to allow employees to work from home, if at all achievable. During the past few decades, the growth of the digital economy has made it possible for a growing number of people to work remotely. Nearly 30 per cent of the American workforce, representing some 41.6 million people, can do that, according to a 2017/18 survey by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But workers in jobs like manufacturing, retail, hospitality and health care mostly cannot.
The divide is stark within industries. About 60 per cent of people who said they work in ‘management, business and financial operations’ told BLS that they could work from home. But fewer than 10 per cent of workers said they could do so in categories described as services, construction and extraction, installation, maintenance and repair, production and transportation and material moving. Many of these industries with few opportunities to work from home employ a disproportionate number of Black Americans.
There are also divisions along race/ethnicity and class lines. Some 37 per cent of Asian Americans and 30 per cent of whites said they could work remotely. But only 20 per cent of African Americans and 16 per cent of Hispanics said they had that ability. Almost 52 per cent of those with a college education or higher said they could work from home, but only four per cent of those with less than a high school diploma said they could.
Average percentage of employees (by race and ethnicity)
who could / did work from home during 2017/18
City Mayors Research is grateful for the help offered and contributions made by US Bureau of Labor Statistics; US Census Bureau; US Department of Health and Human Services; US Department of Housing and Urban Development; National Center for Health Statistics; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Keith Ferdinand Tulane University School of Medicine; Kaiser Family Foundation; Poverty USA; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Associated Press; Mother Jones; Vox; Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University; Pew Research; American Prospect
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