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National Urban League finds persistent racial disparities during pandemic

Black people and Latinos are four times more likely than white people to be hospitalized for COVID-19.

Black people and Latinos are four times more likely than white people to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and Black people are twice as likely as white people to die from the virus, according to a report published Thursday by the National Urban League.

Those health results stem from people of color tending to live in more crowded housing, which allows easier transmission of the respiratory virus, and people of color being less likely to be able to work from home, according to the league’s annual report called “State of Black America Unmasked.”

“This is a crisis,” said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League. “Those with underlying conditions are more likely to get sick. Those that have less access to doctors and hospitals are going to be diagnosed much later. When they’re diagnosed much later, they are more likely to be hospitalized, they’re more likely to die.”

In addition to the pandemic that has killed more than 162,000 Americans, the 2020 report comes at a time of national protests for racial justice after the deaths of Black people in police custody and an economic collapse that shrank the economy 33% during the second quarter.

Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, described the domino effect of African Americans being more likely to work in front-line jobs such as police and firefighters, or in service jobs in hospitals, hotels and restaurants, that run greater risk of infection because they can’t be performed from home.

“Systemic racism, economic inequality, and the state of our democracy have been brought into sharp focus,” the report said. “Like an earthquake exposes the fault lines in the earth; the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the fault lines in America’s social and economic institutions.”

Mayor McKinley Price of Newport News, Va., said the coronavirus pandemic compounds and complicates the problems with higher rates of illness and death.

“It’s still ravaging our country,” said Price, who is president of the African American Mayors Association, which has about 500 members.

Michael McAfee, CEO of PolicyLink, a research institute for racial and economic equity, said disparities in health or housing or jobs for people of color are persistent because they were designed into the system, by neglecting universal health care or by steering low-income housing into areas with higher pollution.

“Pandemics are always going to exacerbate what’s already there,” McAfee said. “This nation is suffering from its own arrogance. Other countries around the world are showing you what it looks like when you provide health care for your people.”

Based on information from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, the Urban League report notes:

• Infection rates per 10,000 people at 62 for Black people and 73 for Latinos, compared to 23 for white people.

• Hospitalization rates per 100,000 people at 213 for Black people and 205 for Latinos, compared to 46 for white people.

• Death rates of one in 1,450 for Black people, one in 3,000 for Latinos and one in 3,350 for white people, possibly because the Black population is older and more at risk from pre-existing conditions.

• The portion of employees able to work from home: 19.7% for Black people, 16.2% for Latinos and 29.9% for white people.

The annual report also contains an equality index, which documented Black people and Latinos trailing white people in categories such as economics, health, education, social justice and civil engagement. Black people ranked 73.8% of equality with white people across those categories, while Latinos ranked 78.8%. Progress has been slight since the National Urban League began publishing the index 15 years ago.

“The disparities are still wide,” Morial said. “That’s structural racism, that the definition of structural racism, that the disparities are frozen in rock, frozen in ice.”

Nationwide protests for racial justice also have focused the spotlight on economic and health issues.

“It’s made us more aware of the disparities and inequities in our communities, from criminal justice to health care to financial housing conditions to transportation,” Price said of the protests. “We just can’t keep one part of society down and expect to live up to what this country is about.”

But researchers and officials see signs of progress, despite the gloomy statistics. McAfee said real influence extended beyond the street protests to people of color winning elections as city council members, state prosecutors and members of Congress.

“This is real power building that has to happen if you’re going to be able to influence this political economy,” McAfee said. “It’s been wildly successful. While we may not have all of the structural changes that want yet, we’re actually starting to get people in positions of power that can see Black and brown people’s humanity.”

Morial said progress on jobs and economic equity could draw inspiration from programs such as the New Deal under President Franklin Roosevelt or the Great Society under President Lyndon Johnson.

“You can make a difference, but we have to make a difference about structural racism,” Morial said. “You can’t be pretend.”

Newport News is rebuilding one of its public-housing neighborhoods with federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grants called the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Price said that sort of program allows the city to fight chronic poverty with development and job training.

“We’ve got to attack those areas where we have concentrated poverty and trying to transform those communities,” Price said. “We’re attacking it from all fronts.”

How Kamala Harris Boosts Biden’s Medicare At 60 Plan

Joe Biden’s pick of Sen. Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential running mate on the Democratic party’s ticket to challenge Donald Trump for the White House should bolster the former vice president’s Medicare expansion proposal.

Biden is proposing to allow Americans between the ages of 60 and 64 the option of buying into Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly. The proposal is considered less costly than earlier versions proposed by Democrats in the U.S. Senate to lower Medicare eligibility to as young as 55 or even 50.

In picking Harris, who is 55 years old, Biden has chosen someone who can speak to the target market of the proposal, which are men and women and minorities in particular, who are in their mid to late 50s and early 60s who have lost their jobs during the pandemic or those who have been unable to get subsidies to buy individual coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And given the pandemic and the particularly harsh impact the Coronavirus strain Covid-19 has had on Black Americans, Harris’ selection could be a bonus for Biden.

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“Senator Harris now holds a unique position among African-Americans, and considering they are dying at four times the rate of whites from Covid and are now suffering epic unemployment and uninsurance, she’ll be a leading ambassador for Joe’s Medicare proposal,” said John Gorman, chairman of Nightingale Partners who worked in the Clinton administration as Assistant Director, Office of Managed Care at HCFA, now known as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. 

Some in their mid 50s and early 60s who didn’t get the ACA’s subsidies got socked with higher premiums as the ACA’s individual coverage, also known as Obamacare, went through a period of instability a couple of years ago in part because some insurers couldn’t manage costs of all of the sick patients buying coverage. Analysts say individual coverage under the ACA remains expensive for those unable to get a subsidy.

Biden’s Medicare proposal is part of his campaign’s pledge to build on the Affordable Care Act. Trump, however, has been working to uproot the ACA as well as its subsidized individual coverage known as Obamacare and also opposes expanded Medicaid. Trump’s appointees in the Justice Department have been working to repeal the ACA.

Harris, a California Democrat, has supported efforts to bolster the ACA and is also on record as supporting Medicare expansion, including Medicare for All.

“Senator Harris has supported expanding Medicare and doing so in a way that maintains choice for beneficiaries among plan options, which resonates with Vice President Biden’s proposal to give individuals age 60 and above the option of enrolling in Medicare and offering a public option more broadly,” said Dr. Zirui Song of the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Song earlier this year wrote in JAMA about the potential implications of lowering the age for Medicare eligibility.

A New Drumline Doc Keeps Things Positive and Wholesome

River City Drumbeat

All throughout River City Drumbeat, the subjects of the new documentary constantly present their hometown, Louisville, Ky., as a danger zone. It’s characterized as an unforgiving city — people can have their lives wiped out if they veer into the wrong neighborhood. For young boys and girls looking to get out and make something of themselves, it’s indeed an uphill journey, over ground usually covered with shell casings — if you don’t end up dead or in jail, you might have a shot. Based on how folks talk, Louisville — “The Ville” or “Da Ville” to the locals — is hell on earth.

But filmmakers Anne Flatté and Marlon Johnson present a wildly different depiction of this hope-crushing hamlet. Employing everything from clean overhead drone shots to a folksy jazz score, the directors make Louisville look like a sleepy, communal, pleasantly urban spot — the kind of place you’d like to retire to when you’re done with the big-city rat race. Even when we visit the most poverty-stricken parts of the city — filled with boarded-up homes, myriad liquor stores and Black and white people alike stuck in the same lower-class rut — it’s still a quiet change of pace from your average overpopulated metropolis. (Worth noting: The documentary was filmed well before Breonna Taylor was fatally shot by members of the Louisville Metro Police Department and protests overtook the city.)

Something tells me Flatté and Johnson wanted to keep their narrative positive, and blowuptuate the sparkling things Louisville has to offer. Chief among them is the River City Drum Corp, a three-decade-old drumming program for kids and teens led by Ed “Nardie” White, an older dude with dreadlocks and a flamboyant fashion sense — I swear there’s a section of the film in which he’s rocking leather (or maybe pleather?) overalls. Teaching kids about African drumming and drumline has been a mission of White’s ever since he got together with his late wife Zambia (she passed away from breast cancer a decade ago) and began showing inner-city youth they can do artistic stuff and actually be good at it.

When it comes to drums, White helps these youngsters take pride in performing and representing Black art to its fullest. He even has them make their own pipe drums out of scrap metal and cowhide. You might get the sense that White harbors a grudge against those who told him when he was younger that the arts weren’t a proper way for a Black man to make a living and instead urged him to get into sports. (Jailen, a headed-for-college teen drummer, divulges that White told him he had to choose between the arts and sports, even though the kid would’ve liked to do both.) But White isn’t out to mold these youngsters into drumming champions — he often holds a showcase that, even though it ends in a battle, is noncompetitive — as much as turn them into African-Americans who don’t think art is “gay.” You can’t blame him for wanting to show Black kids that they can do more than rap or dribble.

As Drumbeat progresses, White, who would like to get back into photojournalism and visual art, slowly but surely passes the baton over to Albert Shumake, a longtime pupil who has grown to be a DJ and a family man. This respectful passing of the torch is yet another example of how River City Drumbeat quaintly makes the case that things in Louisville can be handled with class, gracefulness and not an ounce of bloodshed. This movie lets people know that, with the right mentorship and focus, the kids are definitely gonna be all right.

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