People wondered at the beginning of the pandemic if COVID would turn out to be a “great equalizer,” affecting all of us without discrimination. As we’ve seen over this past year, our country’s deep pre-existing inequalities have instead become even more severe.
At Inequality.org, we’ve been tracking how COVID-19 has compounded wealth, income, racial, and gender divides. The impacts of the pandemic on Black Americans stand out as the most unequal.
To mark Black History Month, we’ve pulled out five of our most painful charts on COVID and racial inequality.
According to the APM Research Lab, Black Americans have mortality rates that are significantly higher than all other racial and ethnic groups except Indigenous people. For each 100,000 Americans, about 211 Indigenous people and 155 Black people, 150 Pacific Islanders and 120 Latinx people have died from the coronavirus, compared to 121 Whites and 76 Asians.
While the vaccine rollout is promising, early data suggest that Black Americans, despite their high COVID risk levels, are not receiving the most shots. According to data from 23 states analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Black infection and death rates are significantly higher than their vaccination rates. Louisiana has the widest gap, with Black death rates 26 percentage points higher than Black vaccination rates. A long history of racist medical mistreatment has contributed to vaccine hesitancy, but research shows that for many Black Americans, barriers to access are very high.
The unequal effects of the pandemic are not just limited to health. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show a huge spike in unemployment at the start of the pandemic, with Black and Latinx workers having by far the highest rates. As the economy slowly recuperates, these racial gaps remain. As of January 2021, Black unemployment was 9.2 percent, compared to 5.7 percent among White workers.
Black Americans also face greater economic hardship under the pandemic because of the racial wage gap. As of the fourth quarter of 2020, the median Black worker made 27 percent less than the equivalent White worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The COVID relief bill currently making its way through Congress, as currently written, would help narrow these racial divides by increasing the minimum wage, extending federal unemployment benefits, and increasing funding to improve vaccine access and support state and local governments and small businesses.
But far more needs to be done to address the country’s extreme racial divides. One step the Biden administration could take without Congressional approval would be to broadly cancel federal student debt. Black people hold the most student debt on average, according to the American Association of University Women. Black women have an average of $37,558 of debt at graduation, while Black men have, on average, $35,665 of student debt.
In a month when we honor the legacies of people who fought and died for racial equality and justice, it is not enough to fight for a return to the pre-pandemic status quo. We must push for an end to the systemic racism that has held back our entire country and made us more vulnerable in the face of crises.