The color of COVID

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Editor’s note: Studies show that racial disparities in the pandemic go far beyond health

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit particularly hard at communities of color and poor Americans. Two new reports out this week show that disparity goes far beyond public health.

In one report, the California Budget & Policy Center says that Black and Brown families and children in the state are at greater risk of evictions and homelessness.

Nearly 6 in 10 Blacks in renter households and 52% of Latino renters spend more than half their income on housing, compared to 44% of white renters and 42% of Asian renters before COVID-19. About 60% of the lowest-income renter households in California paid more than half of their income toward housing.

While about 30% overall of California children five and younger live in households that pay more than 30% of income on rent, about half of the state’s youngest Black children and more than one-third of Latino children do, compared to 17% of young white children.

The nonpartisan Budget & Policy Center is calling for the statewide moratorium on evictions to be extended past Jan. 31. The Sacramento City Council is poised to act on its local renter protections if that doesn’t happen.

The center also says that more relief for renters will be needed beyond the $2.6 billion in the federal package passed in December. The city of Sacramento expects $15.3 million of that money, and Sacramento County another $31 million.

And the center is urging state lawmakers to approve Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan for $600 payments to 4 million low-income Californians. That would be on top of $600 in federal checks going to most Americans, and President Biden’s proposal for another $1,400.

“Exclusionary and racist employment and housing policies have blocked generations of Californians of color and those in low-income households from educational opportunities and higher-paying jobs that enable families to build the financial assets needed to have stable, affordable housing,” Monica Davalos, research associate with the center, said in a statement. “Policymakers must recognize the severe situation our communities and state are in with millions of Californians strained to pay for housing.”

In the second report, the budget center says that closed schools and distance learning has worsened the digital divide that existed before the pandemic.

While more than 20% of California K-12 students did not have access to a computer or high-speed internet pre-COVID, that number was nearly 30% for Black and Latino students, compared to only 13% for white students and 12% for Asian students.

Also, just 53% of low-income households had broadband internet, compared to 86% of higher-income households.

“Policymakers in California— home of the Silicon Valley—must consider targeted investments for high-speed internet and computer access to close the digital divide and strengthen opportunities for Black and brown students and those in low-income households,” Erik Saucedo, state policy fellow at the center, said in a statement.

Black and Brown Americans are more likely to be hospitalized or die from the coronavirus. Other studies and surveys show that Black and brown communities are experiencing the pandemic in different ways, including their worries about the virus, access to basic needs and income loss. Unemployment is higher, and those who are employed are more likely to be in more hazardous, lower-paid service jobs.

These racial disparities, advocates say, need to be addressed in all state and federal relief efforts.

In detailing his COVID-19 plan on Thursday, President Biden vowed to account for racial disparities, including skepticism toward the vaccines, and signed an order to ensure an equitable response.

That includes a COVID-19 Racial and Ethnic Disparities Task Force, as proposed by Vice President Kamala Harris, the former U.S. senator from California, to recommend and oversee actions to address disparities in the public health and economic response.

“Equality will be at the core of every decision we make,” the president promised. “Our plan is based on unity.”

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