New Policy Paper Analyzes the Unequal Impact of COVID-19 on Black Americans

By: Juan Tirado

A recent policy essay analyzes the disproportionate economic and health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for Black Americans.

The Hamilton Project’s new paper, “Racial Economic Inequality Amid the COVID-19 Crisis”, explores how existing health and economic inequalities have led to a higher COVID-19 mortality rate and higher rates of economic hardship among Black Americans. Prior to COVID-19, Black Americans already faced systemic barriers to income and wealth, and contended with higher unemployment rates and more instances of food and housing insecurity compared to white Americans. Because of this, Black Americans, in general, lack the funds and savings to weather an economic crisis like COVID-19. Bradley Hardy, essay author and associate professor at American University, spoke on a recent webinar and said, “There’s not just well-documented income gaps, but there’s also really yawning wealth gaps. And that matters because wealth is also just emergency savings to buffer against an economic shock. It means that in many instances these households don’t have that resource, or that cushion to pull on.”

The essay also highlights the interaction between the pre-existing economic position of Black Americans and their increased COVID-19 mortality rate. According to the essay, Black workers are overrepresented in industries that are currently considered essential such as healthcare support, service, and food preparation. Being on the frontlines of the COVID-19 workforce puts Black Americans at increased risk of exposure. The report also highlights the higher rates of health conditions in Black communities that lead to more severe COVID-19 complications such as diabetes, lung disease, obesity, and heart disease. These factors coupled with fewer resources to avoid the health risks associated with on-site employment have led to significantly higher mortality rates among Black Americans than white Americans.

To help Black households stay float during the pandemic, essay authors recommend enhancing federal safety net programs, and increased aid to state governments to maintain public sector jobs and state safety net programs. Additionally, the essay highlights the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. The report suggests that the HEROES Act would cut poverty rates by 50 percent among Black households impacted by pandemic-related job loss. The HEROES Act also includes temporary expansions of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, two programs bolstered by a growing body of research supporting their effectiveness as antiracist policies.

To learn more about COVID-19’s impact on people of color and income-boosting policies that can help, sign up for our weekly news round up.