The disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on African Americans has highlighted economic and health disparities across the United States created by centuries of systemic racism, an annual report from the National Urban League finds.
Produced in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, the report, 2020 State of Black America: Unmasked, found that African Americans, who are more likely than white Americans to live in crowded housing and work in essential jobs, are nearly three times as likely to contract the virus. Black Americans also are more likely to be uninsured than white Americans, to suffer from pre-existing conditions that increase risk of severe illness, and to receive less aggressive treatment, and as a result are nearly five times as likely to be hospitalized for and more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19.
This year’s report includes a 2020 Equality Index, which gauges how well African-American and Latinx people are doing relative to white Americans based on indicators in five areas: economics, health, education, social justice, and civic engagement. The composite index score for 2020 is 73.8 percent, up 1.6 percentage points from the revised 2018 score of 72.2 percent. Based on pre-COVID data, the index for Black Americans showed improvements in health (79.3 percent to 83.8 percent), social justice (55.9 percent to 57.5 percent), economics (58.2 percent to 59.2 percent), and civic engagement (99.7 percent to 100 percent), and no change in education (77.4 percent and 77.3 percent). Compared with the 2005 index, however, the 2020 composite score shows only slight improvement (72.9 percent to 73.8 percent), while the sub-index score for social justice has declined significantly, from 67.5 percent to 57.5 percent.
In the report, National Urban League president Marc H. Morial shares “19 Lessons of COVID-19,” including “racism is the pandemic within the pandemic”; “bias in health care is both explicit and implicit,” as seen, for example, in how African Americans with COVID-19 symptoms are less likely than white Americans with the same symptoms to be tested; “Black communities never fully recovered from the Great Recession,” with African-American homeownership rates still well below pre-recession levels; “essential workers, disproportionately people of color, are undervalued”; and “too many African Americans still lack health insurance.”
“Like an earthquake exposes the fault lines in the earth, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fault lines in America’s social and economic institutions,” the report’s authors write. “The expansion of healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which coincided with a decade-long economic expansion, partially masked the healthcare and economic disparities festering just beneath the surface. Now, they are unmasked.”
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