COVID-19 confronts Americans with two crises: a public health crisis and an economic crisis. The two operate together, since the public health crisis has dramatically reduced economic activity and overall spending. Moreover, this crisis has broader distributional consequences than any economic event in recent memory, altering most aspects of how we live, work, and conduct business—and in truth, who will survive.
Across the economy and society, the distributional consequences of COVID-19 are uneven: the pandemic and its broader economic and health consequences are disproportionately impacting Black Americans.
The outsized challenges that Black Americans are facing are a reflection of the generally diminished economic position and health status that they faced prior to this crisis. Several pre–COVID-19 economic conditions—including lower levels of income and wealth, higher unemployment, and greater levels of food and housing insecurity—leave Black families with fewer buffers to absorb economic shocks and contribute to Black households’ vulnerability to the COVID-19 economic crisis.
The interaction of those pre–COVID-19 economic and health disparities—including a higher rate of preexisting health conditions such as hypertension and lung disease—has contributed to higher COVID-19 mortality rates for Black Americans (e.g. Benitez, Courtemanche, and Yelowitz 2020; Weimers et al. 2020). According to the APM Research Lab, Black Americans continue to experience the highest overall actual COVID-19 mortality rates (80.4 per 100,000)—more than twice the rate of white Americans (35.9 per 100,000) or Asian Americans (33.1 per 100,000), who have the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates. In 2020 more Black Americans will die of COVID-19 than will succumb to diabetes, strokes, accidents, or pneumonia. In fact, COVID-19 is currently the third leading cause of death for Black Americans (APM Research Lab 2020).