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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

COVID and Racial Inequality

Tiffany Ford, Sarah Reber, and Richard V. Reeves at Brookings:
The COVID-19 pandemic has been like the flash of an X-ray, exposing the deep fractures in U.S. society – not least by race. New data from CDC shows that the death rates among Black and Hispanic/Latino people are much higher than for white people, in all age categories.

Death rates among Black people between 55-64 years are higher than for white people aged 65-74, and death rates are higher for Blacks aged 65-74 than for whites aged 75-84, and so on. In every age category, Black people are dying from COVID at roughly the same rate as white people more than a decade older. Age-specific death rates for Hispanic/Latino people fall in between.
A number of factors are likely contributing to the substantial race gaps in mortality rates. These factors may be influencing the risk of infection and/or the risk of death among those infected. Infection rates could be higher among Black and Hispanic/Latino people because of occupations, less social distancing – and especially geography. The parts of the country hit hardest so far by Covid-19 have larger Black and Hispanic/Latino populations. The CDC has produced data showing the percentage of reported deaths by race compared to the population weighted by the geography of the pandemic. These data suggest that Black and white people account for a slightly higher share of the Covid-19 deaths than of the population of locations where the pandemic hit hardest, while Hispanic/Latino people account for a smaller share. Critically, however, these data do not take age into account. (There are concerns about data quality with regard to Covid-19 in general, including the attribution of deaths to the virus, testing rates, and so on; but problems with the data are unlikely to account for these stark differences by race shown here). While geography may be part of the explanation for the race gaps, it does not look to be the main one.
Black and Hispanic/Latino people may also more vulnerable to Covid-19 if they become infected, because of less access to health care or greater prevalence of co-morbidities such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and lung disease – which in turn reflect broader racial inequalities. Our colleague Rashawn Ray has unpacked the structural conditions that may be causing racial inequalities in Covid-19 deaths.