The Inequalities in Medical Care Seen During the COVID-19 Pandemic Aren’t New

Over the past few weeks, Americans in every corner of the country have seen their lives upended. What was once, naively, considered a far-off threat has caused school cancellations and layoffs. News of a looming economic recession, rising case counts, and a growing death toll have had become the focus of every media outlet. 

Though various groups have been impacted in a myriad of ways, one demographic has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic: African-Americans. African-Americans are less likely to have jobs that can work from home, and more likely than white Americans to have pre-existing medical conditions that can increase the severity of COVID-19.

In The New York Times article “Black Americans Face Alarming Rates of Coronavirus Infection in Some States,” reporters disclosed that in Chicago, African-Americans account for over half of positive COVID-19 tests, and almost three-fourths of fatalities. Yet, African-Americans make up only a third of the city’s population. Still, these alarming figures only represent cases where races have been recorded, and with the current strain on hospital resources, these numbers could be much higher. 

While the ongoing pandemic may have shined a spotlight on these issues, it is simply one part of a broader instance of racial inequality in the United States. 

Healthcare inequality is a product of many other factors, notably the wealth gap between black and white families in America. Brookings reported that the average net worth of a white family was nearly 10 times that of black families in 2016. The upward mobility of black Americans has been suppressed since the end of the Civil War, with redlining forcing black families into less desirable neighborhoods, with fewer opportunities. Though redlining was banned over 50 years ago, many suburbs, and cities, remain segregated today. If you’re living in a crowded household in an area where most of your peers don’t have healthcare, the disease spreads much faster.

As mentioned earlier, when it comes to the workforce, Black Americans disproportionately are working jobs that are now referred to as essential during the pandemic– such as bus drivers or grocery store cashiers. While some people, my family included, can wait out the pandemic as they work from home, these essential workers are interacting with potentially hundreds of people each day.

Many of these jobs traditionally don’t give healthcare benefits, leaving workers now on the front lines vulnerable. Communication issues could have also increased the amount of African-Americans who currently have COVID-19. As the New York Times states, “A lack of early communication about the threat of COVID-19 and confusing messages that followed left an information vacuum in some black communities that allowed false rumors to fester [about the coronavirus].”

The last two months have shown the ugly reality of many aspects of America, the broken healthcare system being the most prominent. What we can learn from this, though, is imminent need of reform. We need to advocate for free universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and higher minimum wages. Notice how over the course of one pandemic, workers who were told they didn’t need an increase in the minimum wage are now the most at risk, being far more exposed than the millions at home.

These disturbing facts and figures on how bad the outbreak is for African-Americans will hopefully spark a discussion about the repercussions of decades-long discrimination on black communities. It’s these conversations that will ultimately inspire people to continue (or begin) working towards tangible social change.