Communities of color are dying at higher rates from the novel coronavirus than white Americans. Here’s how structural inequities play a role.


As the U.S. approached 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic last week, a report provided further evidence that Black, Latino and Native American households are bearing the brunt of the outbreak’s economic fallout. 

Nearly half of U.S. households in the nation’s four largest cities reported serious financial problems amid the pandemic, according to a series of reports called “The Impact of Coronavirus.”

NPR, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a five-part polling series in July and August of more than 3,400 adults in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. The researchers asked residents about their finances, employment, health care, housing, transportation, caregiving and well-being amid the pandemic.

According to the survey, approximately 17% of households reported missing or delaying paying any major bills to ensure everyone had enough to eat, 16% reported serious problems affording food, and 7% reported serious problems not getting food to eat every day. 

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But while a minority of white households reported serious financial problems, the majority of Black, Latino and Native American households reported issues. About 37% of Asian and 36% of white households report facing serious financial problems, compared to 72% of Latino households, 60% of Black households, and 55% of Native American households.

“The health and economic ramifications of COVID-19 are continuing to hit Black, Latino, and Native American households the hardest,” Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said in a statement. “This poll is the latest evidence that the ability to protect yourself or your family during the pandemic is to a significant and unconscionable degree determined by the color of your skin and how much money you have.”

According to the survey, more than 6 in 10 Latino households reported that an adult household members had lost their job, been furloughed or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the outbreak. More than 4 in 10 Black and Native American households said the same.

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A sizable share of Latino, Black and Native American households also reported that household members had been unable to get medical care for serious problems when they needed it, often resulting in negative health consequences.

And when it comes to internet connectivity issues, about half of Native American households and more than 4 in 10 Latino and Black households reported either having serious problems with their internet connection to do their job or schoolwork, or that they do not have a high-speed internet connection at home.

The trends were generally consistent across the four cities. However, in New York City and Los Angeles, Latino households reported the highest rates of serious financial issues, whereas Black households reported the highest rates of serious financial issues in Chicago and Houston.

More than a third of Latino households in New York reported missing or delaying paying major bills and serious problems affording food. In Los Angeles, 45% of Latino households reported serious problems affording food.

In Chicago, nearly a third of Black households reported serious problems affording food, compared with about a fifth of Latino households and just 1 in 20 white households.

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Houston saw the highest rate of Black households reporting serious financial problems. In that city, 81% of Black households reported serious financial problems, compared with 77% of Latino households and 34% of white households.

“Before federal coronavirus support programs even expired, we find millions of people with very serious problems with their finances, healthcare, and with caring for children,” said Robert J. Blendon, co-director of the survey and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Though we want to believe we are all in this together, findings show problems heavily concentrated in Latino, Black, and Native American communities.”


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