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: ‘Views around race and racism appear to be extremely entrenched’ — here’s how they’ve changed over the pandemic

More than a year ago, clear majorities of Americans said people of color were enduring the worst of the pandemic’s threats to health and wealth.

Now that feeling is fading away, a new poll says, even as gauges like job numbers continue to suggest the economy’s rebound is not going as well for Black and Latino communities versus their white counterparts.

Just over half (53%) of poll participants agreed people of color were bearing the pandemic’s health brunt and, similarly, half of people agreed minorities were shouldering the financial brunt, according to a RAND Corporation and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey released Thursday.

Compare that to July 2020, just a few months into the pandemic and soon after George Floyd’s killing was caught by a bystander’s smartphone. Back then, a far higher percentage of people (61%) said people of color faced more of the pandemic’s health impacts. Meanwhile, 57.5% of people said people of color were enduring more of the financial impact.

(Perhaps unsurprisingly, Black and Latino poll participants were more likely to spot COVID-19’s uneven financial and health impacts compared to white participants.)

People of color face higher unemployment

Compare those survey numbers against Bureau of Labor Statistics job report tallies. From July 2020 to September 2021, Black unemployment dropped from 14.4% to 7.9%, and came to 6.7% last month. For Latino workers, the jobless rate declined from 12.7% to 6.3% in September and came to 5.2% in November.

The current jobless rates for Black and Latino workers are lower than the final pre-pandemic numbers in March 2020, when it was 6.8% for Black workers and 6% for Latino workers. But that’s still higher than the white jobless rate.

Between July 2020 and September 2021, the white unemployment rate dropped from 9.2% to 4.2%. It reached 3.7% in November, which is slightly lower than the March 2020 rate.

“We conducted this survey because we wanted to see whether living through a once-in-a-century global pandemic would spur a shift in deep-seated perspectives and attitudes around health, systemic racism, and equity,” said Anita Chandra, vice president and senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation.

“‘We wanted to see whether living through a once-in-a-century global pandemic would spur a shift in deep-seated perspectives and attitudes around health, systemic racism, and equity.’”

— Anita Chandra, vice president and senior policy researcher at RAND Corporation

“We found that views around race and racism appear to be extremely entrenched,” she said, adding that laws and initiatives tackling inequities need to “factor in where the public is and what needs to happen for these sentiments to evolve.”

Participants in the fourth and final installment of the RAND Corporation-Robert Wood Johnson Foundation poll said barriers like low income and difficult access to health care in rural communities mattered more than a person’s race. That was a steady attitude throughout.

Nearly two-thirds (63.8%) in September 2021 said low incomes made it harder to have access to healthcare. That’s pretty close to the 65% who felt the same way in July 2020.

In the most recent survey, less than half of people (44.4%) thought Black households had harder challenges accessing health care than white households. That’s essentially unchanged from July 2020, when researchers first asked the question.

Changing views on racial inequality

The view on racial inequity is dimming, but 68% of poll participants still regarded the pandemic as a chance for positive change. That’s a drop from nearly three quarters in July 2020.

Immediately in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, racial inequities were “at the forefront of people’s mind,” said Katherine Carman, a senior economist at RAND Corporation and one of the research poll’s authors. “As we move away from that, it moves away from the forefront of people’s minds,” Carman said.

“It’s really important that people understand inequities that are faced by people of color, particularly Black and Latino people in America, because if we, as a society, don’t understand those inequities, it’s hard for us to create policies to address inequities,” she noted.

Floyd’s murder sparked global demonstrations and corporate denunciations of racial inequality. Now, tracking the billions that companies pledged to address racial divides is “almost impossible to know,” some observers say. Donations tied to social justice soared in June 2020, the month after Floyd’s murder, but then plunged by December 2020, according to one donation platform.

In a different lens, the march to equity has slowed. In 2019, people of color comprised 16.6% of the executive workforce at America’s largest investment firms and in 2020, the figure increased to 17.6%, according to a Congressional report released this week.

Former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, was sentenced in June to 22 ½ years for the murder of Floyd, who was Black. Chauvin is appealing the case. In another closely-watched case, three white men were convicted last month of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man.

The survey was taken months ahead of the late November emergence of the omicron variant, but it shows broad support for America to send more COVID-19 vaccines abroad. Around 63% said they supported the country sending out extra vaccine doses to countries in need.

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