A long and continuing history of racially discriminatory policies has created and sustained lower levels of opportunity for people and communities of color. The incorporation of an anti-racist, justice-focused framework into all that we do is essential to dismantling the systemic racism in our society and promoting justice for all workers, their families, and their communities.

Long-standing federal, state, and local policies are core drivers of wide-reaching disparities. These include segregated communities, concentrated poverty, inadequate housing and public transportation, unequal access to educational, economic, and job opportunities, and disparate access to and quality of health care.

The COVID-19 crisis has underscored the consequences of these pervasive structural inequities, including stark disparities in coverage and receipt of benefits in state unemployment insurance systems and widening gaps in health insurance coverage and access to health care. Racial discrepancies in occupational exposure to COVID-19, lack of conditions to enable adequate social distancing both at work and at home, and health complications attributable to environmental racism, among other issues, have disproportionately harmed communities of color during this pandemic.

Latinx and Black people in the U.S. are three times as likely to contract COVID-19 and twice as likely to die from the virus as white people. Asian Americans also have a disproportionately high COVID-19 case fatality. And American Indians and Alaska Natives were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white people, but data on the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities are grossly underreported.

The Academy’s Task Force on the potential impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and social insurance programs in the United States will assess the potential effects of the COVID-19 virus on the population, including the disparate impact on communities of color. The Task Force will include a translation phase which will consider these economic implications in formulating possible policy responses to alleviate some of the burden of the pandemic.

Our anti-racist, justice-focused work includes the Economic Security Study Panel, which launched in November 2019 to identify ways to adapt current social insurance and other income assistance programs to address general increases in economic insecurity along with particular risks among Black, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander, and Indigenous communities. And two other new initiatives, a Task Force on Unemployment Insurance to explore major reforms to that program, and a forthcoming Task Force to improve retirement security for older workers in physically demanding jobs and/or poor health, likewise seek to improve income security for workers of color, both during their prime working years and into retirement.

Contact: Elaine Weiss, Director of Policy

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