The racial health disparities of coronavirus

The racial health disparities of coronavirus

When the news broke recently that black Louisianans were dying from coronavirus at higher rates than everyone else, some critics thought that was because the outbreak had been concentrated in and around majority-black New Orleans. But new data released by the Louisiana Department of Health shows that the disparate racial impact of the virus holds true across the state, in rural and urban areas. Centuries of systemic racism have left black communities more at-risk due to high concentrations of poverty, inadequate access to healthcare and the prevalence of low-wage “essential” jobs. | The Advocate’s Jeff Adelson, Youssef Rddad, and Faimon Roberts report

As of Tuesday, more than 52 out of every 100,000 black residents of the state had been killed by COVID-19, about 2.65 times as high as the rate at which those of other races had succumbed. Similar ratios were present in every one of the nine regions the Louisiana Department of Health uses to divide up the state. In northwest Louisiana near Shreveport, black residents are dying at 3.86 times the rate of those of other races. In the Lake Charles area, blacks are being killed at more than 3 times the rate.

Most states were ill-prepared to manage unemployment claims

As unemployment claims soar, many states’ computer systems are struggling to keep up with the surge. Some states’ are even on the hunt for computer programmers who can code in COBOL, a programming language that was developed in 1959. While some advocates have been sounding the alarm about this for years, it is now too late as the country grapples with over 22 million unemployment claims. Michele Evermore of the National Employment Law Project elaborates

Now, we have reached the point where it is too late to prepare states for the massive tsunami of unemployment that is rocking the economy and state UI systems. Fortunately, the federal government stepped in to encourage states to lift some of the more onerous restrictions and add enough money to weekly benefits for four months to ensure that workers maintain some basic buying power and have at least a semblance of economic stability. For many workers and their families, this has helped avert some of the most catastrophic consequences—for now.

Tyler Bridges of The Advocate reports that things are starting to look up in Louisiana, where unemployed residents are now seeing a $600 a week boost in benefits thanks to the recent federal relief legislation. Prior to that, unemployed Louisianans were forced to live on benefits ranging from $10 to $247 a week – one of the lowest levels in the country. While the Louisiana Workforce Commission is making progress, problems are still arising that have been flagged by organizations like NELP for years: 

No one at the Workforce Commission would answer questions Tuesday. But in an email, the agency said it has been adding workers to answer phone calls and is installing an additional server “to deal with the elevated traffic that our online system is currently dealing with. The LWC has already added servers and additional operating capacity twice before the current upgrade ongoing.”

A gloomy prediction on poverty

Researchers at Columbia University have built a new model that predicts the coronavirus pandemic will result in an historic uptick in poverty unseen since the Great Depression, with communities of color and children being the most likely to suffer. Their report predicts that 15.4% of the population could fall into poverty this year if the unemployment rate reaches 30%, as the Federal Reserve has predicted. Jason DeParle, writing for the New York Times’ Upshot blog, has more: 

Unlike unemployment numbers, which are released monthly, poverty rates are reported with a yearlong lag — too late to guide policymakers in a crisis. The Columbia team plans to begin publishing monthly estimates, possibly as soon as May. … Slow to register in government statistics, poor people are also generally the last to benefit from an economic recovery. It took 12 years from the start of the Great Recession for poverty rates to fall to their previous levels.

Tuition may not be enough to keep our universities afloat

College students are wrapping up their spring semester through remote learning, and many universities are moving to online learning for the summer and fall of 2020. This transition could impact enrollment numbers. This is bad news for Louisiana, where public colleges and universities became increasingly dependent on tuition and fees after the Great Recession as state support was cut. Dick Startz writes for the Brookings Institution

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a survey of university presidents, “The vast majority of presidents, 84 percent, anticipate a drop in enrollments, both for new and returning students.” This may be true, as online education just is not the same as in-person instruction. And if we continue to be in a recession, money will be short. On the other hand, when unemployment goes up, young people may choose to continue their schooling rather than look for a non-existent job. (One suspects there isn’t much hiring in the retail and service sectors at the moment—delivery gigs excepted.)

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Number of the Day
20%  – The percentage of Louisiana workers employed in the restaurant/bar, travel, entertainment, personal services, retail, and manufacturing industries as of June 2019 – all of which have been heavily affected by the recession. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)