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Black Americans Bear The Brunt Of The COVID-19 Pandemic's Economic Impact

NOEL KING, BYLINE: COVID-19 has killed more than 100,000 people in this country. Tens of millions of people have lost their jobs. The virus and the economic knock-on are hitting black Americans especially hard. Here are Stacey Vanek Smith and Greg Rosalsky from The Indicator, our daily economics podcast.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, BYLINE: Valerie Wilson directs the Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute. Valerie points out that black Americans are dying at 2 1/2 times the rate of white Americans. Part of the reason for that, she says, is because of jobs.

VALERIE WILSON: People are having to decide between economic security and health security.

GREG ROSALSKY, BYLINE: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, African Americans are disproportionately likely to be doing so-called essential jobs - in the food industry, working in health services, driving taxis. On the upside, that means these workers still have their jobs. On the downside, it means they have to keep working and potentially put their health at risk.

WILSON: You essentially would, you know, have to quit your job in order to protect your health. And that puts you at greater risk of economic insecurity and not having the income, not having access to resources. So people are being forced to make very difficult decisions.

ROSALSKY: William Darity, Jr., is an economist and a professor of public policy in African American studies at Duke University. He says many people have talked about how African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate because they're more likely than the rest of the population to have health conditions that put them at higher risk. Still, he says, that is an economic issue as well.

WILLIAM DARITY JR: Another, more fundamental pre-existing condition which drives many of these health differences is this enormous differential in access to wealth.

VANEK SMITH: Black Americans constitute about 13% of the U.S. population. But they hold less than 3% of the country's wealth. And that means many African Americans can't afford to stop working and also have a harder time weathering unemployment and an economic crisis.

DARITY: It's making glaringly visible a host of inequalities that existed prior to the onset of the crisis.

VANEK SMITH: William worries that the economic disparity between African Americans and the rest of the population is going to get worse. For one thing, employment - African Americans have a higher unemployment rate compared to the overall population. And African American job candidates are far less likely to get hired than white job candidates. So when there's a lot of competition for jobs, it can hit the African American community especially hard.

ROSALSKY: Also, Williams says, African American entrepreneurs are struggling right now. According to recent surveys, minority-owned businesses have been far less likely to get government aid from the giant CARES Act passed by Congress.

VANEK SMITH: Whereas, overall, about 38% of small-business owners who applied for government aid reported getting it, only 12% of black and Latino-owned businesses reported getting the aid they asked for. William worries that once economies across the country start to open back up and businesses reopen their doors, many African American-owned businesses just won't make it through.

Stacey Vanek Smith.

ROSALSKY: Greg Rosalsky, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINITUS TEMPO'S "MELANIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since 2018, Greg Rosalsky has been a writer and reporter at NPR's Planet Money.
Stacey Vanek Smith is the co-host of NPR's The Indicator from Planet Money. She's also a correspondent for Planet Money, where she covers business and economics. In this role, Smith has followed economic stories down the muddy back roads of Oklahoma to buy 100 barrels of oil; she's traveled to Pune, India, to track down the man who pitched the country's dramatic currency devaluation to the prime minister; and she's spoken with a North Korean woman who made a small fortune smuggling artificial sweetener in from China.