Communities of color hit hardest financially by COVID-19: study

Communities of color have been hit the hardest by economic and social challenges spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study, adding to the well-documented toll the pandemic has had on health within these communities. 

The new study — conducted by NPR, Harvard and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — found that 72 percent of Latino households, 60 percent of Black households and 55 percent of Native American households reported “serious financial problems.”

Those problems included struggling to pay credit card bills, rent and utilities and being able to afford food. Notably, across the board, the most common problem was having little to no savings. Roughly 4 in 10 Black, Latino and Native American households said that most if not all of their savings have been used during the pandemic.

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“The national response to this pandemic has failed too many families,” Avenel Joseph, vice president of policy for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said on a virtual press call. “We all want to believe that we’re in this together and that [COVID-19] is an equal opportunity offender, but in reality, long-existing structural inequities have resulted in Latino, Black and Indigenous households being at the highest risk for [COVID-19] and the least protected from the financial problems that are associated with this pandemic.”

Robert Blendon, co-writer of the study and executive director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program, noted that the numbers were worse than they expected.

“We don’t know why it is, with trillions [of dollars] spent, so many people, they have no savings and can’t pay rent,” Blendon said, referring to the numerous aid packages that Congress has passed since March to help offset the damage done by the pandemic.

He added, “Our takeaway from [the study] is, regardless of the billions being spent, we have not put a cushion to get through this natural disaster in health [underneath] minority communities.”

Congress’s largest coronavirus aid bill, the CARES Act, was more than $2 trillion and included a one-time $1,200 stimulus check to most Americans making less than a certain amount of money, a national moratorium on evictions through July and boosted unemployment benefits amounting to an extra $600 a week.

When the study was being conducted, from July 1 to Aug. 3, the unemployment benefits were still being funded; the eviction ban ended right before the conclusion of the survey.

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However, the increased unemployment benefits ended in mid-August, and despite a potential stay on evictions until the end of the year thanks to a recent order from the Trump administration, Congress still finds itself deadlocked, unable to come to terms on a new aid package that would potentially extend the benefits.

The battle for a new bill is fiercely partisan, something Blendon argued shouldn’t matter during times of crisis.

“In a natural disaster, the worst thing that can happen is politicized discussions,” he said. “You’re talking about people who are unbelievably vulnerable. That is not the moment to decide whether it’s a Republican or Democratic state or mayor.”

The study also showed that households of color struggled more than white households when it came to providing adequate care for children during the pandemic.

Sixty-six percent of Latino households and 59 percent of Black households cited serious problems when it came to child care.

The most serious concern came from the ability to continue a child’s education when many school districts have opted for virtual learning to start the new school year because of the continued prevalence of the pandemic.

“About half of Native American households and more than four in ten Latino and Black households report 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 report states.

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