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Racial equity should be at the core of coronavirus responses

Abimael Chavez-Hernandez and Clark Goldenrod
Apr 07, 2020
Our nation and state are facing an unprecedented public health crisis in the novel coronavirus. Leaders at all levels have been and must continue to advance policy responses that both keep people safe and respond to economic concerns, including millions of workers across the U.S. now out of work.  

Due to the impact of historical racism and ongoing forms of discrimination and bias, BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) will more acutely feel the economic and health effects of this coronavirus crisis. Without attention to equity, they are more likely to be left out of the policy responses.  

At the federal, state, and local levels, policymakers should explicitly focus on racial equity in their responses to COVID. These policies should: 
  • Ensure that access to public supports like health care and food assistance do not exclude people because they have low incomes, are out of work, or because of their immigration status; 
  • Include financial supports that benefit the lowest-income individuals and families (which disproportionately include BIPOC communities), so that they can meet their basic needs through this crisis; these folks should not face greater barriers to accessing assistance; and 
  • Include support for employers, including access to capital, that are specifically designed to include small businesses owned by BIPOCs, which often are not able to draw on the same pool of resources or wealth as white-owned businesses. 

More serious economic impacts

Due to past policies that limited their ability to build income and wealth (such as redlining), and underinvestment in education and health care in their communities, people of color face structural barriers that make it harder to succeed in today’s economy. 

These policies have resulted in a few realities for people of color: they are both more likely to work in lower-paid jobs and to work in essential positions that serve our communities during this public health emergency. They are more likely to work in low-wage jobs that make it harder to make ends meet or to build savings to draw on in times of crisis. They also can work in sectors that are more likely to be shut down during the pandemic and ensuing economic recession, including the restaurant and hotel sectors. Households of color in Minnesota are almost three times as likely compared to white households to not have enough emergency savings - defined as having enough liquid assets, such as savings accounts, to live at the poverty level for three months if they suddenly lost their jobs.  

People of color are also more likely to be employed in essential positions, such as grocery and child care workers, that continue to serve our communities but in which it is harder for workers to protect themselves from coronavirus.  

More serious health impacts 

Public health research has shown health outcomes are strongly affected by socioeconomic factors, like quality of housing, transportation access, and income. We also know that people of color are more likely to have worse health outcomes, and could be more vulnerable to worse health outcomes in the midst of this public health crisis and rapidly changing economy.  

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, respiratory health is of particular concern. Those with respiratory health issues are among the most vulnerable to the most serious health consequences of coronavirus. Communities of color are at greater risk, given higher prevalence of respiratory conditions; for example, Black Americans are more likely to suffer from asthma than white Americans.  

People of color are also more at risk during this public health crisis because they are less likely to have access to affordable health care. Despite significant improvements over the past decade thanks to the Affordable Care Act, people of color are still less likely to have health insurance. While the overall uninsurance rate in Minnesota is 5.1 percent, that rate is substantially higher at 6.6 percent for Black Minnesotans. For Latinx and American Indian Minnesotans, uninsurance rates are about three and a half to four times higher than the state average. Furthermore, people who are undocumented are less likely to see a doctor due to cost or concerns about use of public insurance options. Nationally, almost half of undocumented people are uninsured compared to 9 percent for citizens.