The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 600,000 in the United States and as a result has caused major economic upheaval and permanently affected the lives of millions of people. It’s no surprise that Black and Hispanic Americans suffered more than any other demographic group, but the impact is much more substantial than previously considered, according to a new study.
Research published in the medical journal BMJ showed life expectancy in America dropped by two years from 2018 to 2020, the largest decline since World War II. But as white people lost 1.36 years, comparatively Black people lost 3.25 years and Hispanic Americans lost 3.88 years.
To exacerbate the problem, Black and Hispanic Americans are also seeing harder economic times due to the pandemic. Although the overall economy is recovering as coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, many in those groups who suffered job losses and housing insecurities are continuing on that same pace.
This already comes with the health disparities that already disproportionately affected communities of color before the onset of the pandemic, which simply made matters worse. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top immunologist said in May the extent those disparities have done damage.
“COVID-19 has shone a bright light on our own society’s failings,” said Fauci, speaking at Atlanta’s Emory University’s graduation ceremonies, speaking of conditions like hypertension, obesity, chronic lung disease, and diabetes. “Almost all relate to the social determinants of health dating back to disadvantageous conditions that some people of color find themselves in from birth regarding the availability of an adequate diet, access to health care and the undeniable effects of racism in our society.”
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Kaiser Health News, citing data from McKinsey & Co. analysts, reported the two demographics will have to wait until at least 2024 to see their pre-pandemic wages and salaries come back, facing 1.6 to 2.0 times the unemployment rates of white workers. There is also an increase in poverty that typically disproportionately affects minority groups. Census data shows 11.3 percent of Americans are now living in poverty, compared with 10.7 percent in January 2020, KHN says.
“I’ve been homeless before,” James Toussaint, 57, a New Orleans man who has never had COVID-19 and was evicted from his apartment after he lost his job at an auto parts store, told KHN. “I don’t want to be homeless again.”
As a result, Toussaint has suffered with high blood pressure and arthritis in his back and knees. He did manage to find a new place to stay when he was put out of his old apartment, but that only happened because his former landlord found a way around the federal eviction ban. His family could not take him in.
“I’ve got family, but everybody has their own issues and problems,” Toussaint said. “Everyone is trying their best to help themselves.”
In a study from the National Equity Atlas, about 14 percent of tenants have fallen behind on their rent, doubling the pre-pandemic rate. About 67 percent of them are people of color.
The health and housing disparities that have come along with the plight of people like Toussaint are pronounced and outline the inequities of the healthcare system when it comes to distribution.
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“It’s a vivid paradox,” Dr. Steven Woolf, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University and a senior author of the BMJ paper, told The Los Angeles Times. “We really do a fantastic job in developing cutting-edge medications and technologies in healthcare, but a pretty lousy job of distributing them fairly. The same thing happens with diabetes, hypertension, and even maternal and child health.
“We have a fundamental problem with providing healthcare and getting it out to the people who need it most,” he added, noting that the drop in life expectancy in America was 8.5 times the rate of other wealthy nations. But he said it was most shocking to see the widening gaps between white people and communities of color.
“This was really disturbing,” said Woolf. “It reflects the huge loss of life and it demonstrates the price people pay for systemic racism.”
But taking a solutions-based approach to that racism can help turn the tide, Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation told KHN. Tackling problems like poverty, racial inequity, and housing disparity could potentially turn back the alarming trends affecting people of color.
“How the pandemic will affect people’s future health depends on what we do coming out of this,” said Besser. “It will take an intentional effort to make up for the losses that have occurred over the past year.”