Tuesday, March 31, 2020

COVID-19 Will Widen the Racial Divide

In biological terms, pandemics are a leveller, attacking prince, prime minister and pauper without favour. In economic terms, they are much more hierarchical. 

In the United States COVID-19 is likely to widen the country’s alarming racial wealth and income gap.  Black Americans are on average much poorer than whites, a divide that has widened in recent years. They more commonly occupy insecure jobs at risk from the forced shutdowns, and have less financial flexibility. A Fed study found almost 30% of college-educated black households couldn’t pay all their bills if confronted with an unexpected $400 expense – a proportion that doubles where the household lacks a bachelor’s degree. People tend to believe it has got much better in the past 50 years. It hasn’t. 

While the wealth gap is large, it’s income that counts most during a public health crisis.  White households make roughly double the income of black households, a reality that hasn’t improved since 1962. 
That’s aside from the direct health risk. The same people often do jobs that cannot be performed from home and pose serious risk of infection such as retail, home help and nursing, according to the Center for American Progress. Moreover, if they get sick, the 16 states that are home to 65% of black Americans rank well below average on healthcare access, according to consultancy McKinsey. Death rates among African Americans are already higher than average for heart disease, asthma, cancer and pneumonia. 

Covid-19 could therefore leave black Americans a disproportionate legacy of death as well as financial disarray.


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