Bridging divides

Data shows community disparities in the effects of covid-19, and unity is more important than ever.

Data shows community disparities in the effects of covid-19, and unity is more important than ever.

By WP BrandStudio

As more states begin to report demographic data about who is being affected by covid-19, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that communities of color are experiencing higher rates of infection and death. Dealing with this reality has left these communities reeling—reporting feelings of anxiety and worry as they fight a grueling battle.

Over the past four weeks, the Ad Council has been studying the issues that Americans say they’re most concerned about regarding the covid-19 pandemic, conducted with the pro bono help of C+R Research. The goal: helping issue experts, the media and brands create content that provides Americans with key information and resources, as well as a bit of comfort, during this global crisis.

New data from the fourth and final week of Ad Council’s quantitative study underscores the stark contrast in how historically underserved communities have been impacted by the coronavirus—and that brands and content creators should consider developing messaging that promotes supporting one another at a time when unity is paramount.

Health and inequality

Non-white Americans say they’re feeling more worried and are reporting greater financial impact than white Americans on virtually all measures. They’re most notably reporting greater needs for assistance with things like getting personal protective equipment, access to healthcare, affording household bills and access to covid-19 testing.

Numbers from the CDC show that about one third of people who have been hospitalized with covid-19 are African-American. Yet, African-Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Data in some states are also showing a disproportionate impact on Hispanic and Asian communities. For instance, in Iowa, Hispanic individuals make up 17 percent of confirmed cases though they are 6 percent of the population. And in Alabama, Asian people accounted for 4 percent of covid-19 deaths, compared to being 1 percent of the state’s population.

The pandemic is exacerbating ongoing health and inequality issues in communities of color in the U.S. This divide highlights a long past of health disparity. Black Americans in particular have been shown to have higher rates of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. And Hispanics are 50 percent more likely to die from diabetes or liver disease than non-Hispanic whites. All of these conditions, of course, increase the risk of complications from contracting covid-19, though it’s not just pre-existing conditions that re-create a chasm.

These inequities have put these groups at higher risk when it comes to the coronavirus, especially when additional challenges like worse access to health care are factored in. Hispanics are almost three times as likely to be uninsured than white Americans, according to data from the CDC. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, people of color are also more likely to be without access to health insurance or be in a financial position to purchase insurance.

According to data from Ad Council’s survey and from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, black and Hispanic Americans are also more likely to be overrepresented in jobs deemed “essential,” such as food services, delivery services, grocery store work, public transportation and sanitation and cleaning. In New York City, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority reports that about 60 percent of their workforce is black or Hispanic. Jobs like these are at high risk for exposure—in fact, more than 6,000 MTA workers have been diagnosed or have shown symptoms of an infection.

Highlighting harmful sentiments

Asian respondents report being most concerned about increased discrimination since the pandemic began, and yet, they are least likely to report knowing someone who has covid-19 or be infected themselves. The worries align with reports of a growing number of verbal and physical attacks directed towards Asians and Asian Americans, as well as a rise in acts of vandalism against Asian-owned businesses.

Since the virus is believed to have originated in China, people of Asian descent have found themselves being unfairly targeted and discriminated against as the crisis continues to unfold. Unfortunately, the surge in anti-Asian bias during a pandemic is not new and reflects a history of xenophobia in the United States, which has consistently and erroneously associated immigrant populations as the bearers of disease. However, while European immigrants have been able to overcome those harmful stereotypes, people of Asian ancestry continue to have to battle the notion they are to blame.

Case in point: Asian Americans faced similar discrimination in the U.S. during the SARS epidemic in 2003 and 2004 and the sentiment is resurfacing today. A recent poll by Ipsos for the Center for Public Integrity shows more than 30 percent of Americans have witnessed someone blaming Asian people for the novel coronavirus pandemic, and 60 percent of Asian Americans surveyed said they’ve seen the same behavior. It certainly does not help when leaders use terms like “Chinese virus” and “Wuhan virus” to describe covid-19.

The case for unity

People tend to look for scapegoats when times get tough, whether during a pandemic, or an economic recession. Psychology work shows that humans often seek something concrete to blame or a single point of explanation for their problems, however wrong or misguided they may be. With physical distancing in place, some individuals are lacking the important social connections that reinforce the view that we’re all in this together. As people feel more isolated, it can intensify negativity that already exists, pushing more people to give in to prejudice.

This is where the right messaging can contribute to a greater good. Marketers and content creators have been responsible when it comes to delivering messages about staying safe at home to flatten the covid-19 curve. However, they should also be responsible for pushing a message of solidarity, including how to combat hate as a bystander and resist bigotry. Stakeholders have the power to make content that inspires and encourages unity that sees past racial, economic and ethnic divides. The vital message now—and moving forward—is that this too shall pass, but only if we show kindness, understanding, and truly commit to supporting one another.

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