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How COVID-19 Has Highlighted American Inequities

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

by MADYSEN RAUCH - October 9, 2020 - Truly understanding the impact of this virus requires recognition and acknowledgment of the inequitable influences it has had on minorities across the nation.

With COVID-19 changing the way we live our lives, recognizing the parts that have remained the same has become a challenge. Not to mention the parts of societal structure and standards that have been changing, impacting everyone, and the greatest of which has been healthcare. Within America in particular, the access to and quality of healthcare regarding COVID and funding in school systems (particularly minority serving public schools) have both been heavily impacted, especially for minority racial and ethnic groups in our society.

Recently, as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus has spread across the world and into nearly every community, interesting trends have been recognized in data related to the virus. One particularly revealing trend has been the disparity shown in the case numbers and death rates within non-white racial/ethnic groups. As shown in the graphic below, minorities in the U.S. are experiencing immense disparities in their COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

CDC Graphic Demonstrating COVID-19 Risk in Relation to Race/Ethnicity

The graphic shows racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. have a significantly higher risk for infection based on rates (population is controlled). This means that when comparing the populations in a 1:1 format, the minority group experiences a significantly higher rate of the category being analyzed. For example, when considering Black or African American, Non-Hispanic Persons, in the category of COVID-related deaths, they are at a 2.1 x higher risk, meaning that they are 2.1 x more likely to die of a COVID-related death than White, Non-Hispanic Persons. While minorities make up smaller percentages of the U.S. population, their recorded COVID case and death percentages are higher than their population percentage, indicating that they represent a greater number of cases, hospitalizations, or deaths than should be expected based on population.

In addition to this, minority groups are also facing disproportionate COVID-related challenges in regard to educational funding. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, more and more low-income students and communities are facing the consequences of disparities within educational funding. In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This Act functions to provide $2.2 trillion to relieve American citizens and institutions affected by the pandemic, $13 billion of which was distributed to education funding. However, the discrimination in this funding has quickly become evident in various minority populations. Firstly, with this Act, the U.S. Congress granted Betsy Devos, Secretary of Education, the ability to provide waivers to states regarding their implementation of the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). This ability provides ample opportunity for states and schools to reallocate funding away from students with disabilities, providing an even greater barrier for them to face along with the difficulty of virtual learning and altered school formats. Without funding for students with disabilities and related programs, they are likely to experience far more difficulty in providing functional education systems and experiences. Overall, COVID (or more specifically, the response to COVID) has revealed and furthered a significant discrepancy in the educational opportunities between students with and without disabilities. However, in addition to this disparity in educational funding during COVID, low-income and racial/ethnic students are also experiencing discrimination in their educational funding. In general, public schools serve much greater numbers of low-income students in comparison to private schools, with 52.3% of the nation’s public school students being low-income, whereas private schools generally serve 5% or fewer low-income students (as shown in the visual below).

U.S. Census Bureau Chart of Private Elementary-School Enrollment Rates by Income Level

Not only are these schools different in their composition of student incomes, but also in student races and ethnicities. While private schools contain approximately 68.6% white students, 9.3% Black students, and 10.4% Hispanic students, public schools provide educational services for approximately 61% White students, 17% Black students, and 16% Hispanic students. These numbers clearly demonstrate how public schools contain far greater numbers of racial and ethnic minorities in comparison to private schools and fewer numbers of White students. As private schools also contend for CARES funding, fewer funds are granted to public than private schools. Since these public schools contain such a greater number of low-income and racial and ethnic minority students, this disparity disproportionately affects these minority students, granting large amounts of the funding to majority middle/high-income schools (private), and thus not supporting lower-income and racial/ethnic minority students in a representative manner. This lack of necessary educational funding results in numerous consequences for these minority families and communities, but the most prominent issues include lack of necessary educational materials (school supplies, school-owned materials, etc.) and lack of accomodation in response to altered learning format (laptops, internet access, masks and other health precaution materials, and more). Without the funding that is necessary to initiate and sustain these educational aspects, low-income and racial/ethnic minority students are likely to take a far more significant blow from COVID-related changes in education. While private schools with higher-income and a greater proportion of White students will access the funding from CARES that is allocated to them for purposes that exceed or meet the necessities, public schools serving greater numbers of low-income and racial and ethnic minority students will experience budget and funding cuts that will prevent accessible and proper education for their students. For more specific stories regarding these disparities, visit these sites. Ultimately, discrimination within the distribution of educational funding during the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in numerous inequities regarding minority students.

While the global Coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in countless ways, many of its consequences and impacts are overlooked or ignored. In order to truly understand the influence that this virus has had, it is important to recognize and acknowledge the inequitable impacts COVID has on minorities across the nation. Though the pandemic has changed life for everyone, minorities are currently experiencing far more significant disparities in relation to COVID than other groups, with racial and ethnic minorities experiencing far greater risk in regards to COVID and its effects, and low-income and racial and ethnic minority students facing educational inequity as they fight for proper funding in their schools. Additionally, it is important to note that this article does not fully cover the extent of disparity in relation to COVID as it affects minority populations, and numerous minority populations are discriminated against in a variety of ways by COVID, not only those explored in this article. Furthermore, while this article functions as an educational resource, it is important to not only rely upon multiple resources, but also to continue to educate oneself further. For information specifically regarding the disproportionate health effects of COVID on racial and ethnic minorities, visit the links here and here, for general Coronavirus information, visit the CDC website linked here, and for more information on the CARES Act (visit the link here) and its discrimination against low-income and racial/ethnic minorities visit the link located here. If we all work together for true equity and equality, we can begin to bridge these gaps and overcome these challenges.

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