It’s No Surprise that COVID-19 Hit Black America Hardest


The saying goes when white America catches a cold, Black America catches the flu. Or is it when white America catches the flu, Black America gets pneumonia? Either way, the point is that centuries of institutional racism have bred a system that has left our community weak against environmental threats. Whether they come in economic form – Black unemployment consistently hovers well above the national average – or, as is the case today, a global pandemic.

A pattern started to emerge as we continued to monitor the behavior of this novel coronavirus. Black people were getting seriously sick and dying from COVID-19 at an alarmingly higher rate than other groups. The Associated Press recently analyzed available data from state and local governments, and it shows that nearly one-third of those who have died in the U.S. are Black, in a country where only 13% of its residents are. In Michigan, 41% of those who’ve died are Black; African Americans make up only 14% of our state’s population. It would seem that to be Black in America is itself a preexisting condition.

This pandemic has exposed cracks in America’s foundations that we knew were there, but in early April, Donald Trump stood in front of reporters and acknowledged the disparity but said he doesn’t understand why and that this is a problem for which we need to “find the reasons.” We can save you the time of putting together a task force, Mr. President. Because racism. Because our ability to fight off any illness or disease depends largely on social determinants like health care, our access to fresh food, our physical environment and, of course, wealth – all factors impinged upon by structural racism. 

• In 2017, 10.6% of Black Americans were without health insurance. Only more Hispanics were uninsured at a rate of 16.1%.

• 42% of Black Americans have hypertension, 12 percentage points higher than the next closest ethnicity group.


• 11.7% of diabetes diagnoses in 2017 were in Black patients, the second-highest rate after American Indians at 14.7%. 

• In 2016, the median wealth for Black families in America was $17,600 compared with white families’ wealth of $171,000.

• In 2017, the median household income for Black families was $40,258, or $10,000 less than the next closest ethnicity group. 

• The average unemployment rate in 2016 for Black women and men is 7.8% and 9.1% respectively, compared to 4.7% for the nation.

Sources: American Diabetes Association, Census Bureau, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Reserve, U.S. Department of Labor

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