Racial inequality has deteriorated further with COVID-19

In an article in The Charlotte Observer a few days ago by Gene Nichol called “What the pandemic has done to racial inequality in North Carolina,” racial inequality has become even worse. Nichol is a contributing columnist and professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, with a focus on poverty. The article can be linked to below, but here are a few key paragraphs:

“It doesn’t happen as often as one might wish. But, on occasion, you can still be surprised by what someone says. For example, earlier this month, the Donald Trump-appointed Chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, explained to the Senate Banking Committee:

‘Disparate economic outcomes on the basis of race, have been with us for a very long time, they are a long-standing aspect of our economy, and there is a great risk that the pandemic is making them worse. Because the people who are most affected by the job losses are people in relatively low-paying parts of the service industries that happen to skew more to minorities and women, there is a real concern that if we don’t act as quickly as possible to support these people then we’ll leave behind an even more unequal situation. We need to do as much as we can to avoid exacerbating inequality.’

The traditional patterns of racial economic subordination Powell referenced have long dominated every component of life in North Carolina. Today, for example, twice as many African-American Tar Heels live in poverty as whites. The numbers are even worse for Black kids – nearly three times as many are poor as whites.

Racial income disparity is huge. But racial wealth disparity astonishes. Black households, on average, claim less than a tenth of the economic assets of white Tar Heel families. Racial minorities are dramatically more likely, in North Carolina, to be unemployed, uninsured, food insecure, housing insecure, and trapped in low wage work. Such defining disparities have existed throughout the entirety of our state’s history. Radical, systemic, disproportional racial economic impact, as Chairman Powell put it, has ‘been with us for a very long time.’

And then came the tragic, terrifying COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of Tar Heels were cast, anew, into poverty. No Kid Hungry estimates that, this year, one in four Tar Heel children won’t be able to get enough to eat. State food pantries report a 38% increase in demand over recent months. Since March, over half of Black families, and 43% of Latinx households, lost significant employment income sources. Over a third of Latinx renters have been forced to miss monthly payments, jeopardizing their housing. Eighteen percent of all North Carolina adults aged 18-65 are now without any health care coverage whatsoever. Nearly 40 percent of N.C. Latinos now have no medical insurance. As Fed Chair Powell put it, Covid ‘will leave behind an even greater’ landscape of inequality.”

Rather than add my own two cents, I encourage you to re-read the testimony above from Chairman Powell, along with Nichol’s commentary. What is happening in North Carolina is an example of what is going on in other places. People with low income jobs do not have the luxury of working from home, so they must go in or get fired. So, the COVID risks are much greater to a group already at financial risk.

What COVID-19 has done to racial inequality in NC | Charlotte Observer

11 thoughts on “Racial inequality has deteriorated further with COVID-19

  1. Yes, there is economic disparity. This gap is widening. Yes, the poor tend to be disproportionally single mothers. Also, disproportionally ethnic. And in places, indisputably racial where laws and practice discriminate.

    The problem here is claiming race – or a systemic racism – causes economic disparity. The blacks from the Caribbean, however, are disproportionally wealthy to whites – the group supposedly at the top of this economic food chain. But where’s the systemic racism in this case? Asians are disproportionally represented in higher education. Where’s the systemic racism? Jews are disproportionally represented in Nobel prizes. Where is the systemic racism? The glaring exceptions disproves the hypothesis. Even one by Powell.

    When we link backwards – we locate a disparity of results between only selected groups and then use this disparity for some selected group criteria metric to do so – we presume causation of the selected criteria. In this case income disparity. We are guilty of supporting a fallacy when we do this, guilty of presuming race is the cause for the group disparity. It’s a fallacy because it does not hold true across the system. Disparity can be caused by all kinds of effects, and so if we want to address the disparity in a meaningful way, we have GOT to stop assuming the conclusion, stop assuming examples of disparity are caused by what we choose to select as the common feature – like race – for this group or that. This assumption is not true and so solutions based on the assumption are guaranteed to fail to address the underlying problems behind such disparity.

    • Tildeb, thanks for your comment. I agree with the widening of disparity and the need to understand multiple causes and factors. However, you use several examples of groups that have done well to make generalizations.

      Race plays a factor in income inequality. Family size plays a factor. Single parents play a factor. Lack of opportunity plays a factor. Lack of healthcare accrss. Lack of reading and education play a factor and so on. To say race does not is a statement is one which I simply disagree.

      In a working family homeless agency I served with, all of these factors play a role. To your point, being a single parent played a huge factor, yet race is ever present as a factor, whether it is a leading or supporting factor.

      Thanks for your thoughts. Keith

      • I’m addressing the idea of systemic racism that simply doesn’t hold true in reality. Yes, there are all kinds of disparity caused by all kinds of reasons. But when we narrow our understanding to something like race, then we know we’re wrong because some groups of the same race in fact and reality do better than the group being blamed for the disparity. This matters more than a wave of the hand because we are now introducing race-based policies to supposedly reduce race-based disparities by what we assume are racist causes. We are, in fact, acting exactly contrary with these supposed ‘solutions’ to the only real solution that works, the one that Martin Luther King advocated, namely to STOP using race as a metric – be it an impediment or a promotion – and start using merit, start helping and promoting merit no matter the race. To massively reduce income inequity, we require a systemic safety net for all and not one based on race. Whosoever meets the requirement gets the aid. If we want to reduce racism we have to stop using the race card as a metric. Period.

      • Tildeb, I appreciate your comments and fully understand MLK’s point. Yet, our country has gone through systemic racism of Jim Crow for over a hundred years and unfortunately it did not all go away and, in some places, it is resurfacing. When we speak of investment in areas of poverty and crime, which include African American areas, these areas are food deserts and subject to blight, closed schools, closed libraries without books, and not getting the investment needed.

        So, I will continue to disagree with your comment that there is no systemic racism in our country. I will support your comment that our solutions must be focused on understanding the causes and investing time and energy to solve them.

        Many thanks for your thoughts. Keith

      • Yes, as you mention there absolutely has been systemic racism against blacks. And yes this does stack the deck against economic equity. That’s why these discriminatory aspects – as difficult as they have been to pry out of law and social practices – have already been removed from the statutes. The way to do that is to make such discrimination illegal. The way NOT to do that is respond in kind (like is being advanced today) by amplifying race-based policies that implement reverse discrimination and call them ‘anti-racist’ and therefore justified under the guise of achieving ‘equity’. This is just a word game to legitimize racism once again.

        I deplore race-based policies and laws and segregation regardless of the nice sounding labels we give them. I do want to get race off the table in discriminatory consideration altogether and I think each of us deserves no less. But to level the playing field does, as you quite rightly point out, require addressing very real problems. I am not disputing these nor the effects they have on each generation. So my point is not to wave away these real problems but to not use a discriminatory race-based approach to address them in the name of ‘equity’. I think this is a really bad idea and one diametrically opposed to finding and implementing necessary solutions that we know work. Like an adequate social safety net.

        We know the moral arc improves over time addressing systemic discrimination first in law and then in ever-widening social circles when we use values of equality. Equality in law in every other area in which it has been applied involves dismantling – not encouraging – inequality in law. What we are seeing today is a wider movement that advocates for implementing inequality in law as a solution to enforcing equity. Seriously. Think about that. Policies and solutions that discriminate on group membership are to be enforced in law and this is supposed to result in equity – not for the individuals against whom such policies MUST be wielded but for the groups they are supposed to elevate. Seriously. This is not an improvement but a reversal of this arc that invigorates the root problem of seeing race as something that defines the individuals who constitute it and then creating discriminatory policies in law to make race-based discrimination systemic!

        So it not the problems you raise that I have any issue with whatsoever; these are real and important. It’s the framework of using equity measures between groups as the guiding light that I find a deplorable metric doomed to further the scope and depth of discriminatory inequalities that make them systemic problems. Such an approach is exactly wrong.

      • Tildeb, thanks for your comment. I definitely agree we should focus on the issues and ending discrimination. Yet, I would add two rebuttals. First, white privilege is unrecognized by those who enjoy it. As a white man, I can pretty much go anywhere I want, I will get easier access to money and opportunity, and I will not fear for my life when stopped by law enforcement. A black or brown man bears a greater burden of proof. As for reverse discrimination, I truly think this is claimed to a far greater degree than it occurs. So, we still cannot leave race inequality out of our factors to solve. Yet, I do agree that white people in poverty, especially in more rural settings are malserved, maltreated and often voting against their economic interests.

        Thanks again for your comments. Keith

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