By Bella Pratt, Blue Sky Graduate Assistant and MBA Candidate
On coronavirus’ (COVID-19) effect on marginalized communities, Dr. Lisa Cooper states, “It’s not only about, you know, whether people behave the right way or whether they made the right choices. What were the opportunities they had to make the right choice?” (Nye, 2020). Pointing out the chronic systemic inequality within the United States, Dr. Cooper effectively gets to the root of the problem: The road forward to COVID-19 recovery not only relies on basic actions like social distancing, staying informed, and donating to those that are most marginalized, but on prioritizing diversity and inclusion work more than ever.
As more and more stats around COVID-19 are released, the results are staggering–especially as it relates to marginalized populations:
- Approximately 1 in 3 people (33%) who were sick enough to need hospitalization from COVID-19 were African American–even though Black/African Americans only make up 13% of the total U.S. population. On the other hand, white people, making up 76% of the population, were among 45% of the hospitalizations (Aubrey, 2020).
- Similarly, as evidenced by the City of New York’s graphic below (2020), New York City, Hispanic/Latino people are heavily affected by coronavirus for both serious and non-serious cases. This is in spite of the Hispanic/Latino population only making up around 18% of the total U.S. population (United States Census Bureau, 2017).
- A recent Pew Research Study stated that 27% of Black people knew someone that was hospitalized or died due to coronavirus in comparison to 10% of white and Hispanic people (Hagemann, 2020).
- Among the 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, there is often stress and fear that seeking health services–like for COVID-19–will lead to deportation or having to report who they are close to.
- The Navajo nation has been especially affected by coronavirus: the nation has a population of 175,000 people, yet has more cases of COVID-19 than nine states (“Coronavirus in the U.S.” by The New York Times, as cited in Hahn, 2020). For Native Americans as a whole, there are often challenges around being able to frequently wash their hands. Compared to whites, they are 19 times more likely to not have indoor plumbing (Weiner, 2020).
- The U.S. surgeon general said that people of color are “more likely to live in densely packed areas and in multigenerational housing situations, which create higher risk for spread of highly contagious disease like COVID-19” (Hagemann, 2020).
While Dr. Anthony Fauci said that Black/African Americans do not look to be more infected by coronavirus, he did state that medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma might make it more common for Black/African Americans to be admitted to the ICU or pass away due to coronavirus. He went on to say that we need to look at the health inequality that exists in the United States (Aubrey, 2020). However, this fact alone does not tell the whole story of this inequality, for African Americans and other marginalized groups: the lack of resources and social and physical factors that often exist for these groups–whether it comes to housing or education–has widened the gap between marginalized groups and non-marginalized groups. This, among other things, affects marginalized groups’ ability to be healthy, especially in situations like coronavirus (Nye, 2020).
- “Those communities that are marginalized, that are under resourced or underserved, will always suffer more during a crisis like this,” said David Acosta, the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at AAMC (Weiner, 2020). “Any health inequities that they already experience will only be exacerbated by a pandemic” (Weiner, 2020). Viral outbreaks tend to have a higher impact on the poor: there are double the amount of flu-related hospitalizations in poor neighborhoods versus those in higher-income neighborhoods.
- Often, homeless people, people who are barely covering their expenses, and those that don’t have health insurance don’t have a consistent health care provider and may not be able to miss work.
- Those who are afraid of a high hospital bill may avoid getting care, which could eventually cause medical complications.
These are only some of the factors that can lead to a bigger impact on these lower-income populations (Weiner, 2020). When considering the income gaps between racial and ethnic groups, and how these tend to most negatively affect African-Americans and Hispanics (Kochhar & Cilluffo, 2018), these effects also often impact people of color.
This increased impact on lower-income populations is not only a nationwide trend, but also one we’ve seen affecting Idaho. Jesse Tree, a Treasure Valley nonprofit, helps people evade homelessness through rental assistance and by offering landlord negotiation support. Last year, the organization was able to give out $173,061 in rental assistance, assisting 535 household members at around $900 per household. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jesse Tree has been receiving triple the calls a day, from about 10 calls to between 30 and 40 (Harding, 2020). This aligns with the quickly rising jobless rate in Idaho, at about 11.5%, which is higher than the previous state record (Staats & Sowell, 2020).
Race and ethnicity data has been added to Idaho’s website, with data showing that Hispanics make up 35% of the COVID-19 cases in the state though they are only 13% of Idaho’s population. Black/African Americans currently make up about 2.2% of the cases, while Native Americans are at 1.5% (“COVID-19 Demographics”, Idaho Division of Public Health).
But, what can we–as people, as organizations, and as communities–do about any of this?
Within our health system, as well as economically, educationally, and socially, there has been a growing divide between marginalized groups and those that have been more privileged. This has led to disparities in many areas, especially health care.
Given the systemic nature of these issues–present even more so during COVID-19, though the effect will stay around long after the coronavirus is gone–the support that we can offer goes deeper than focusing on our own individual lives. Coronavirus is a symptom, but it is not the root cause. The cause itself is embedded much deeper, within systemic inequality and income gaps.
That is why the position you or your organization takes regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion is more pertinent now than it has ever been. It can be tempting as everything falls apart around us to say that we can’t do anything more to help–that we’re too busy, too focused on our own lives, or too worried about our own finances. But history will look back at this moment and how we chose to react. There is a powerful ability to make a difference now, as marginalized groups struggle to recover from COVID-19 and its economic and health impacts.
At an organizational level, prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives and furthering DEI strategy will put us one step closer to an end. Academically speaking, continuing to educate on the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion and breaking down systemic barriers for people of color will move the needle. Targeting these DEI initiatives can and will help those most marginalized have the opportunities they need to navigate this pandemic and beyond. By focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion at an systemic level, not only can our community and our nation aid with COVID-19 recovery for those that are most struggling, but we can also aid with systemic inequality as a whole–the same inequality that set them up to be in that position in the first place.
Aubrey, A. (2020, April). CDC hospital data point to racial disparity in COVID-19 cases. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/08/830030932/cdc-hospital-data-point-to-racial-disparity-in-covid-19-cases
City of New York. (2020, April). Covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04162020-1.pdf. The Official Website of the City of New York. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04162020-1.pdf
Foy, N. (2020, April). Coronavirus hits people of color harder in the U.S. How about Idaho? Nobody knows. Idaho Statesman. https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/coronavirus/article241932096.html
Hagemann, H. (2020, April). New survey highlights racial disparities in the coronavirus pandemic. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/14/834466606/new-survey-highlights-racial-disparities-in-the-coronavirus-pandemic
Hahn, J.D. (2020, May). Irish help raise $2.7m for Native Americans hit by coronavirus to repay 173-year-old favor. People.com. https://people.com/human-interest/irish-help-raise-money-native-americans-hit-coronavirus-repay-favor/?utm_source=emailshare&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email-share-article&utm_content=20200508
Harding, H. (2020, April). Amid COVID-19 joblessness, this organization is working to keep families in their homes. Idaho Statesman. https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/community/boise/article240413641.html
Idaho Division of Public Health. (2020, April). COVID-19 demographics. Idaho Division of Public Health. https://public.tableau.com/profile/idaho.division.of.public.health#!/vizhome/DPHIdahoCOVID-19Dashboard_V2/Story1
Kochhar, R. & Cilluffo, A. (2018, May). Key findings on the rise in income inequality within America’s racial and ethnic groups. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/07/12/key-findings-on-the-rise-in-income-inequality-within-americas-racial-and-ethnic-groups/
Nye, B. (Host). (2020, April 25). Coronavirus: Racial disparities of this disease [Audio podcast episode]. In Science rules! With Bill Nye [Audio podcast]. Stitcher.
Roberts, R. (2020, May). Payette County reports 2nd coronavirus death; Canyon County death removed from total. Idaho Statesman. https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/coronavirus/article242552071.html
Staats, D., & Sowell, J. (2020, April). Coronavirus’ shocking impact: Never before have so many Idahoans been out of work. Idaho Statesman. https://www.idahostatesman.com/article241890256.html
United States Census Bureau. (2017, August). Facts for features: Hispanic Heritage Month 2017. United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2017/hispanic-heritage.html
Weiner, S. (2020, March). The new coronavirus affects us all. But some groups may suffer more. AAMC. https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/new-coronavirus-affects-us-all-some-groups-may-suffer-more