We Knew All Along
By Isaac Aguirrre
Nationwide, Black people are dying at 2.2 times the rate of white people reports the COVID Tracking Project
In March, a team of researchers at the Froedtert Health and Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee investigated risk factors associated with COVID-19. The researchers designed the study by tracking the health outcomes of 2,595 tested patients for COVID-19 to determine if a single ethnic or minority group was disproportionately affected by COVID-19. According to the researchers, “The results of this study indicate that the increased burden of COVID-19 among African-Americans patients in this large cohort was predominantly attributable to a greater incidence of infection.” The team’s findings saw that racial health inequities have made the incidence of infection—and its adverse health outcomes—a disparate challenge for people of color.
COVID-19 Reports and the media have said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on racial health disparities, but years of data and careful study has shown “the shedding of new light” not to be true. It’s safe to say, we knew this all along. And even as we approach a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent data on racial health disparities illuminate the issues that our healthcare system faces, and will continue to face, if left unchecked. “Black Africans make 11% of deaths, nearly double the share of the state’s population,” writes the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) , “Latinos between age 18 and 34 account for two-thirds of all deaths in an age bracket considered by many to be at low risk of serious symptoms.” This clearly shows that equity has not been a priority in the healthcare system and has resulted in serious consequences of unaddressed racial health inequities.
Racial health disparities are driven by social and environmental factors such as discrimination in health care systems, health care access, and utilization; educational, income, and wealth gaps; and social inequities in housing and occupation. Research shows that the U.S spends more on healthcare than any other developed country and still has significantly worse health outcomes. The Commonwealth Fund explains that health care disparities in the U.S generate unnecessary expenses and disproportionately affect Black and Latino Americans.
COVID-19 has not only exacerbated health disparities, but it has also caused economic challenges for already hard-hit communities of color. One survey reports, “More than half of Latino and nearly half of Black survey respondents reported experiencing an economic challenge because of the pandemic—substantially more than the 21 percent of white respondents.” The survey results can be attributed to persistent wealth gaps that have historically marginalized Black and Latino individuals. For example, the Urban Institute reported that income inequality and racial and ethnic disparities are contributing factors to the growing wealth inequality in the U.S. By means of family income, the data shows that “white family wealth was seven times greater than black family wealth and five times greater than Hispanic family wealth in 2016.” Long-standing wealth gaps—that is, differences in earnings, income, and even retirement savings—also affect homeownership and housing in general.
The bottom line is, we don't have to accept these disparities in our communities. California can act now and create equity in the healthcare system that so many Californians need right now. For example, the California Health Foundation has outlined several measures to curtail unequal health outcomes like addressing immediate COVID-19 health needs in communities of color, and the immediate social, economic effects of the pandemic. California has been recognized as a national leader, and this challenge will determine if the state has what it takes to save lives.