Covid, Race, and the Revolution

CRR News and Analysis [issue 50]

Inclusive recovery starts with data on race, policing and incarceration widen health disparities, preparing for Covid’s long shadow, and more, in this week’s Covid, Race, and the Revolution.

Issue No 50. May 5, 2021

Amplifier art amplifies movements. Learn more about Amplifier and purchase the fine art print "We Are Unstoppable."   

Inclusive economic recovery starts with data on race

While national data suggest the US economy is rapidly rebounding, people of color are being left behind, Bloomberg reports. Inequities like this are getting a lot of attention because, for the first time, federal officials have pledged to look beyond aggregate data in making policy decisions and try to chart an inclusive recovery by considering trends in communities that historically recover more slowly from downturns — for example, the Black unemployment rate. Bloomberg calculated unemployment rates disaggregated by race and ethnicity across 15 metro areas. Joblessness in the first quarter of 2021 ranged from 15.5 percent among Black people in the Los Angeles region to 3.5 percent among White people in and around Atlanta. Unemployment remains high in most urban areas, though the situation has improved since the mass layoffs of last spring and summer.

Learn how to use data to tell your community’s equity story. Come to the launch of the Racial Equity Data Lab on Thursday, May 6 at 12 pm PT / 3 pm ET. This is the latest project of the National Equity Atlas, America’s most detailed report card on racial and economic equity. The Lab is designed to make it easy for you to build a data dashboard and maps to support equity campaigns in your community. The power of data cannot be overstated. In Dallas, for example, fewer workers earn at least $15 an hour now than in 1980. Data points like that make a compelling case to raise the minimum wage.

A new analysis of more than five million federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans documents what small business owners of color have been reporting all along: majority-White neighborhoods received loans at significantly higher rates than neighborhoods with Latinx, Black, or Asian majorities. Los Angeles had some of the nation’s worst disparities. Although communities of color were hit hardest by Covid-19 and its economic fallout, White neighborhoods received PPP loans at twice the rate of Latinx-majority neighborhoods, 1.5 times the rate of majority-Black areas, and 1.2 times the rate in Asian ones, according to the analysis by the Los Angeles Times and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

Health care is the largest sector of the essential workforce and the largest employer of Black women. But they experienced career stagnation during the pandemic, while White women in health-care occupations advanced, according to new research from the Institute for Racial and Economic Equity. The report highlights the need to address occupational segregation and mobility in recovery strategies.

Creating affordable housing through community ownership

As five million renters struggle to pay rent and face a risk of eviction, and small property owners try desperately to hold on to their buildings, Wall Street investors are gearing up for a windfall. They’re ready to snap up buildings in financial distress and repeat the harm done to communities of color during the last foreclosure crisis over a decade ago. A new report from PolicyLink addresses this looming crisis and outlines equitable strategies that move privately owned rental housing into tenant or nonprofit ownership. Our Homes, Our Communities: How Housing Acquisition Strategies Can Create Affordable Housing, Stabilize Neighborhoods, and Prevent Displacement offers policymakers, housing justice advocates, and tenant organizers tools to advance community ownership, prevent speculation, and create permanent affordable housing. Read the report and sign up for a webinar on May 19.

Policing, incarceration widen health disparities

The pandemic was supposed to reduce jail and prison populations, but the numbers have climbed back almost to pre-Covid levels, Camille Squires writes for Bloomberg CityLab. “This moment has offered a chance for reform-minded city leaders to implement lasting changes, but it remains to be seen whether this momentum can be sustained, or whether this reduction in incarceration will be one more anomaly of an atypical year.” Meanwhile, coronavirus-related court delays are keeping people locked up longer as they await trial. In an uprising last month at the downtown St. Louis jail, detained people denounced unsafe conditions, but their central demand was: “We want court dates.” 

In April 2020 the Massachusetts Department of Correction responded to Covid by ordering a near-total lockdown of state prisons, permitting people only 30 minutes outside cells for showers and phone calls. Jean Trounstine of Dig Boston reports on the impact in one facility, Old Colony Correctional Center, where the virus was rampant, mental health services were suspended, and suicide attempts and self-harm were not uncommon. By February 2021, time outside cells had increased to three hours. 

After a brutal few weeks that saw the police killings of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, and Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Anand Subramanian of PolicyLink calls on mayors to acknowledge the policy failures of policing and work to create safety and security by investing in health care, housing, education, food, and jobs in neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested. Writing in The Appeal, he urges mayors to advance budgets that divest from police and invest in communities; negotiate police contracts that facilitate transformation; refuse donations from police unions; question police accounts of violent incidents; allow new programs to innovate and fail; and listen to local leaders.

Aggressive policing — including relentless community surveillance and harsh punishment for low-level infractions in addition to police violence — not only hurts the many individuals on the receiving end of such treatment. It also harms community health and widens health disparities, researchers write in Health Affairs. Communities of color, Black neighborhoods especially, bear the brunt of such tactics and their devastating health impacts. While fundamental reforms to how we “do policing” are important, the researchers say housing, health care, and education “could prove essential for erasing the negative population health consequences currently generated by law enforcement institutions across the US.”

Fees, surcharges, and fines are embedded in the criminal justice system, used both to punish people and raise money for state and local governments. A Star Tribune investigation finds these charges fall hardest on low-income people of color, trapping many in the criminal-legal system. A $30 fine for expired vehicle tabs automatically swells to as much as $120 with a surcharge to support law libraries, plus late penalties if someone can’t pay immediately. For all the talk of justice reform after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a low-wage worker takes a bigger financial hit for an outstanding citation today than a year ago.

Preparing for Covid’s long shadow

The health effects of the coronavirus can drag on for months and increase the risk of death or chronic, often debilitating conditions even in people who didn’t initially get very sick from Covid, according to a study published in the journal Nature and reported by the New York Times. The study examined medical records of more than 73,000 people across the US who were infected but not hospitalized. It potentially raises red flags for people of color, who have been infected at disproportionately high rates. “We got caught unprepared for Covid,”  Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, a co-author of the study, told the Times. “Let’s not drop the ball on long Covid.” 

An exhaustive new study of government spending on public health sheds light on why we were caught unprepared for Covid. While overall national health expenditures increased by 4.3 percent between 2008 and 2018, state governmental public health spending was cut during the Great Recession and remained essentially flat in the decade that followed.

Under federal law, health plans are required to cover mental health care on par with the coverage for medical care, but an investigation by the Government Accountability Office raises questions about whether insurers are complying. Therapists and other behavioral health-care providers cut hours, reduced staffs, and turned away patients during the pandemic, as suicide attempts, drug overdoses, depression, and anxiety surged, Kaiser Health News reports.

The pandemic has left pregnant women in underserved neighborhoods to struggle with isolation, limited access to good health care, and financial insecurity after the loss of jobs, Olga Grigoryants writes for the Center for Health Journalism. More are reportedly opting for home births, often at the last minute, because they’re afraid of contracting the virus at the hospital. In a recent survey of 815 Black women who gave birth in 2020, about 73 percent said they rarely felt that the hospital or their community offered affordable, accessible birthing options that included a Black midwife or doula. 

Changing the narrative of vaccine hesitancy

The pace of Covid-19 vaccination is slowing in the US, diminishing the chances we will ever achieve herd immunity, the New York Times reports. The dominant narrative attributes the decline to vaccine hesitancy, but Stefanie Friedhoff of the Brown University School of Public Health calls that story misguided. In an essay in Stat, she argues that we should drop the term vaccine hesitancy, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and talk instead about what motivates people to get vaccinated and what obstacles get in their way. She leads a research team looking into those questions. In her study, 72 percent of Black and Latinx Americans say they want to get the shots, but 63 percent don’t have enough information about where to go. More than 20  percent say they have regularly been treated with disrespect when getting health care, and 20 percent had trouble finding care when needed. Despite these systemic barriers, only 3 percent said they will not be swayed to get vaccinated for Covid.

The horrendous Tuskegee experiment — officially called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” — comes up in almost every public discussion about why some Black people are wary about the Covid vaccine. But many descendants of men in the Tuskegee study have been getting or soon will get their shots, and they feel an obligation to assuage fears and misconceptions about the vaccine, David Montgomery writes in the Washington Post. “They feel a duty to use the education and empowerment that their forefathers lacked to seek information about the vaccines — to assure themselves that this federal medical program is trustworthy and beneficial.”

Stand-up comic and television host W. Kamau Bell has open, honest, at times humorous conversations with Black health-care workers in the launch video of THE CONVERSATION: Between Us, About Us, a campaign developed by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Coalition Against COVID to provide Black communities with credible information about Covid vaccinesBell’s conversations get to the heart of the most common questions and concerns about the shots. Check it out.

A Covid vaccine could be authorized for adolescents as young as 12 years old by next week, the New York Times reports. That would boost the nation’s immunity level. But it also raises ethical questions about whether vaccines should be given to relatively low-risk US teens or to poor countries where infection rates are high and vaccine supplies are low or virtually non-existent, Al Tomkins writes in a daily Covid briefing published by Poynter. 

The situation in India, for example, remains dire, as hospitals run out of beds and oxygen, people die awaiting treatment, and makeshift funeral pyres are built in car parks. In The Atlantic, Prachi Gupta describes the anguish of Indian Americans as they deal with the contrast between the unfolding crisis in their homeland and the sense of a return to normalcy in the US.  “Like everyone I interviewed for this story, I too am oscillating between waves of emotions — anger, helplessness, and guilt — as reports come in from my family in India...Although I can look forward to picnics in the park this summer, India’s parks are becoming grave sites. All the justified optimism around me now feels unjust and even irresponsible. For many of us with friends and family around the world, the trauma feels like a never-ending loop.”

India is the world's biggest producer of vaccines, made mostly for export. Now the country has a shortage of Covid vaccines for its own population, BBC reports. The situation is emblematic of the systemic problems described in a Truthout article about how capitalism and racism undermine an effective and equitable global vaccine plan.

We can all learn something about solidarity and vaccine equity from Blackfeet Nation in Montana, which gifted hundreds of doses of surplus Covid vaccines to nearby residents in Alberta, Canada. People drove for hours and lined up along the highway to get inoculated at a mobile clinic at the border.

Please share with your networks and send your ideas and feedback. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. #COVIDandRace

We hope you find this series an important tool for keeping up with news about the virus and its impact on communities we serve. As a non-profit organization, PolicyLink is honored to provide resources to support the needs of our nation's 100 million economically insecure individuals. Generous partners like you make our work possible. 

Michael McAfee and Angela Glover Blackwell are grateful for the contributions of Fran Smith, Milly Hawk Daniel, Rachel Gichinga, Glenda Johnson, Jennifer Pinto, Heather Tamir, Ana Louie, Janet Dickerson, and Mark Jones to produce the COVID-19 & Race commentary.