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Minority homes bear financial strain amid COVID-19

Sergii Zyskо/iStock
Sergii Zyskо/iStock

By SASHA PEZENIK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — An unequal burden in America’s COVID-19 pandemic has been borne by those most vulnerable to the virus, and most at risk to its economic fallout. Latino, Black and Native American households across the country already weathering the brunt of converging crises — coronavirus, and systemic racial inequality — now find the virus’ havoc hitting home.

New polling reveals the fiscal straits into which coronavirus has plunged these groups. The survey, conducted July 1 – Aug. 3, and released Wednesday from NPR, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, explores COVID-19’s impact on families’ finances, and their ability to maintain not just their profit margins — but the infrastructure of their daily lives.

A majority of Latino, Black and Native American households compared to white households across the nation report facing serious financial problems in the midst, and because, of the COVID-19 outbreak, as they also face disproportionate suffering from the virus itself.

It comes as the nation nears a grim milestone: 200,000 COVID-19 deaths. That looming loss has already disproportionately impacted communities of color.

At least four in ten Latino, Black and Native American households report draining all, or most of their savings; 72% Latino, 60% Black, 55% Native households report facing serious financial problems during the pandemic.

“The magnitude of the impact is stunning,” Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told ABC News. “In pre-COVID America, millions of people were living paycheck to paycheck. But that living on the edge is not spread evenly across the nation. These issues intersect, they’re not separate.”

“The problem is several-fold,” Dr. Robert Blendon, professor of Public Health and Political Analysis at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told ABC News. “Groups for a variety of reasons who are being disproportionately clobbered by this virus, and it’s no question they started out economically fragile. Now it’s much more of a crisis.”

ABC News reported on the impact of the virus in America’s four largest cities — there, Black and Latino households were hit the hardest by financial issues. Refocusing the lens through a breakdown of race, the impact reaches drastically nationwide.

“Like being caught in a hurricane,” Blendon said. “And your house didn’t have a strong foundation to begin with. And now the roof is collapsing. And there’s not enough cushion being provided. Now you’re in much greater trouble.”

“Understanding all this pushes the narrative forward,” Blendon said. “These groups are the most vulnerable to start with and so how we ask, how are they coping? And the answer is, their ability to manage a family is starting to fall apart.”

Economic strain from COVID-19 has slammed communities of color, already more harshly affected by record U.S. unemployment numbers. During the pandemic, reported issues range from depleted savings, to serious problems paying for food and rent. More than six in 10 Latino households, more than four in 10 Black and Native American households, report adult household members having lost their jobs, been furloughed, or had wages or hours reduced since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

A large share of these households have already hit the bottom of their slim reserves and are now having major problems paying for basic costs of living, including food, rent and medical care.

When it came to internet connectivity issues, more than half of Native American households, and more than four in 10 Latino and Black households report either having serious problems with their internet connection to do their job or schoolwork, or that they do not have a high-speed internet connection at home.

This connectivity issue, experts say, poses a real risk because it strikes at a time when many are learning remotely and hits in the very households where parents may be struggling to find and afford childcare. The very children, a CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report found Tuesday, that comprise a disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths.

“The virus has exacerbated issues in the very groups who have the least margin to bear them,” Blendon said. “And who need opportunity. And for the kids – they may not recover for years if at all from the loss of that educational structure.”

“It’s not just about making sure that kids go home with a laptop, if you can’t get on the web, that laptop isn’t going to do you a lot of good. There needs to be an investment to address the disparity there, too, if we want to make sure that children are able to learn and people are able to work from home,” Besser said.

“We need to address and understand the intersection of these issues, communities that provide opportunity for health, and communities that are offered barriers to health. We need to keep investing in systems of support until we reach a point where there will be no difference in the breakdown by race and ethnicity,” Besser continued. “We are at, I hope, an inflection point in our history.”

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