What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

How economic factors are putting people of color at greater risk for coronavirus

Black and Latino Americans are suffering disproportionately from the novel coronavirus pandemic -- both in terms of health and economic harm. These groups are three times as likely to contract the virus as white Americans and nearly twice as likely to die from it. Meanwhile, people of color are feeling the recession keenly, with many reporting job or income loss. Yamiche Alcindor reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new poll of America's four largest cities underscores disproportionate economic impact of the pandemic on Black and Latino Americans.

    The poll of residents in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Houston found nearly half of all residents either lost a job or lost wages or hours. But the percentage of residents with financial problems soared above 70 percent for Black and Latino residents in some cities.

    The poll was conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NPR and the Harvard School of Public Health. The foundation is a funder of the "NewsHour.

    Yamiche Alcindor has a report on the connections between the health crisis and the economic impact on Black and Latino Americans.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In April, after a trip to a crowded local supermarket in Northern Virginia, Maria Zelaya felt sick. The 45-year-old came down with symptoms that sounded a lot like the ones she'd heard about on TV.

  • Maria Zelaya (through translator):

    I got a headache, body aches, and, the following day, my throat hurt. It was hard to swallow, and I lost my appetite and just wanted to stay in bed.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Her test came back positive for COVID-19, and she was told she needed to self-isolate.

    That was easier said that done for Zelaya, who immigrated from El Salvador in 2003 and works as a dishwasher. She shares a two-bedroom apartment with her three daughters, as well as a friend and her friend's daughters.

  • Maria Zelaya (through translator):

    I was afraid, afraid for myself, for my girls, for everyone who lives in the house. We live in an apartment that's very small, and there's seven of us. That's a lot, but this is the reality we Latinos and immigrants live with right now.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Just across the river in Southeast Washington, D.C., Cecil Brown and his fiancee, Shanreika, who didn't want to use her last name, are just now recovering from COVID-19. Both have lost family members and friends to the virus and say there were some dark moments along the way.

  • Shanreika:

    I'm a diabetic. I have hypertension. So, it was just like, I was seeing myself on ventilators. I was just — just thinking the worst,

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Shanreika works at the front desk of a mental health center in Washington, and she says there weren't enough protections to keep her from catching the virus there in July.

    Soon after, Cecil began showing symptoms too.

  • Cecil Brown:

    I just didn't feel that she was in a safe environment. Then she gets it. And then she brings it to me. So, I was angry. I was really, really angry.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Together, these two stories help explain what's driving a national trend.

    According to a recent New York Times analysis of federal data, African Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately hit by COVID-19. They're three times as likely to contract coronavirus as whites, and nearly twice as likely to die from it.

  • Basim Khan:

    Ultimately, economic issues are what's driving the impact of the virus in low-income and minority communities.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Dr. Basim Khan is the executive director of Neighborhood Health, a chain of clinics in Northern Virginia serving 30,000 residents. Many of them are immigrants who lack health insurance.

    Since the outbreak, his clinics have ramped up free testing to try to identify and contain the spread. They have seen this startling pattern play out. While Hispanic residents make up 50 percent of their patient population, they account for 90 percent of the positive tests.

  • Basim Khan:

    They have higher risk because of the work that they're doing. They have higher risk because they have to take public transport. They have higher risk because they're living in crowded conditions.

    And the reason they're living in crowded conditions is, they can't afford enough to live in areas like Northern Virginia or the District of Columbia.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    In this area, the median home price is about double the national average. So, many low-wage earners in fields like construction, health care, grocery stores and restaurants also live in crowded homes, where infection can spread more easily.

  • Basim Khan:

    And, ultimately, that's what's really driven the epidemic in these communities.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    While Latino residents have been hard hit in Northern Virginia, in Washington, D.C., African Americans are getting slammed by the virus.

    The District has seen more than 14,000 positive cases of COVID-19. Half of those have been African Americans, making them more than twice as likely as white residents to catch it. And despite making up less than half of the city's population, they have accounted for three-quarters of the city's deaths.

  • Troy Prestwood:

    If the pandemic was looking for the perfect place to strike, to ravage through like a wildfire, it found us.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Troy Prestwood is a neighborhood commissioner for Ward 8 in Southeast Washington, D.C., where a third of families live below the poverty line.

    The ward leads the city in rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions. And now it has the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 too. One of them was Curtis Orr, a 55-year-old immigrant from Trinidad who started his own dental business. He was Troy Prestwood's cousin.

  • Troy Prestwood:

    He simply was a working man. He had a staff that was also working. And he was doing the right thing, living the American dream. And he got sick, like so many other people.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Why do you think more Black people are dying of the coronavirus, especially here in Southeast D.C.?

  • Troy Prestwood:

    It's because Southeast D.C. has often been left behind.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    He says that, like Latinos in Northern Virginia, many African Americans here work in jobs they just can't do from home, depend on public transit to get around, and live in multigenerational homes.

    And he said that some in the community have become complacent about wearing face masks and social distancing. With only one grocery store in the entire ward, many depend on corner stores and fast food, high in salt, sugar and fat. That combination of higher infection rates and higher rates of underlying health conditions has been deadly.

  • Troy Prestwood:

    In addition to all the other challenges I have mentioned, we also lead the city in violence and homicides. Right now, homicides are up in our neighborhood and in our communities.

    So, if that is an example of how we're coping, we're not coping well.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Back at her home in Northern Virginia, Maria Zelaya managed to keep everyone else from getting sick by pushing all six of them into the other bedroom.

    Her main concerns now are economic. She hasn't been working since the restaurant cut back its hours. She can't pay the rent and worries about getting evicted. While her children are U.S. citizens, she doesn't have legal status.

    As a result, she is not eligible for unemployment benefits or federal stimulus checks.

  • Maria Zelaya (through translator):

    It's sad when you go to apply and they tell you: You don't have a Social Security card. I'm sorry. I can't do anything for you. It's like they're shutting the door in your face. It's sad, but that's the reality we Latinos are living with.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Can you afford it to not work?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Shanreika:

    No, I can't afford not to work.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Cecil Brown and Shanreika have been arguing about whether Shanreika will go back to work. The mother of three says she needs the money and has heard there are more protections in place now. But they don't want to go through this again.

  • Cecil Brown:

    But we're not sure that you get it one time and that's it. So, our mind-set has to be now never to get it again. That's number one.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor in Washington.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest