The issues of race-related inequities and their effect on different communities are very complex and often misunderstood or ignored. Add in a new crisis like COVID-19 and existing disparities are only made worse. For a while, studies have shown that Black individuals have higher rates of health conditions than white individuals, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease. Each is considered a pre-existing condition that puts people at risk for complications associated with COVID-19.
Greater Cincinnati Foundation (GCF) has been tackling inequities like this at the root for decades. Now more than ever, they are providing relief and setting aside funds to assist those in need. Experts at GCF explain what broken systems are, how to shape a new reality post-pandemic, and what it looks like for those communities that were already struggling.
What does it mean when we talk about “broken systems?”
“Broken is such a strong word,” says GCF Senior Program Officer Michael Coffey. “It doesn’t give you a place to start.” He points instead to systemic issues, which manifest in these broken systems.
GCF has partnered with Racial Equity Institute (REI) for its Racial Equity Matters trainings. REI likens these issues to a lake. When you see a few dead fish, it’s easy to assume that those particular ones had an illness or a storm had wiped them out. But if the next day dozens of fish are dead, there’s likely a much bigger problem—like toxic water. There are big problems that nonprofits and government aid can help on the surface, but getting to the root is the challenge. Systemic issues are woven into wages, healthcare, housing, transportation, and education—these are components of the root, but they’re only a sampling.
Director of Special Initiatives at GCF, Robert Killins Jr., provides the housing issue as an example. “We’ve known for many years that we have a housing problem,” he says. “More specifically a housing affordability problem. Just in Hamilton County between 2000 and 2014, rental housing costs have increased 46 percent.” A study conducted by Xavier University found that during the same time frame, wages have increased by only 19 percent. Killins notes an average market-rate two-bedroom apartment with no government assistance costs around $800 per month. For an individual to be able to afford the apartment, a person making minimum wage of $8.70 needs to work more than 70 hours a week or make more than $16 an hour.
“Not a lot of jobs pay that,” Killins says. “And people have to pay a disproportionate amount on housing and it just compounds all these crises. If our society really values work, then work needs to pay these people enough. If not, what do you do? Do you have large subsidies that people get? Or just expect them to not be able to make it and deal with it through all the other governmental systems?”
How COVID-19 has Exacerbated the Existing Inequities
According to the CDC, members of racial and ethnic minority groups are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age, due to systemic health and social inequities. Black individuals are approximately five times more likely to be hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 than whites. “It’s very clear our systems failed the test of a pandemic,” says CEO of GCF Ellen Katz. “If anyone ever thought we are all equal when it comes to viruses, it’s not true.”
It’s very clear our systems failed the test of a pandemic,” says CEO of GCF Ellen Katz. “If anyone ever thought we are all equal when it comes to viruses, it’s not true.
Katz says the virus itself doesn’t discriminate, but its impact is discriminatory. For example, many persons of color are in the roles of essential workers, whether they’re in healthcare settings or the service industry. They do not have the option to socially distance or work from home. “Their communities don’t have the same access,” Katz says. “Even within their own homes, many people can’t practice social distancing, oftentimes simply due to having smaller residences.”
In terms of infection data, Katz adds that the accuracy is questionable and incomplete, leaving unmeasured gaps that can’t be quantified in order to provide necessary aid. “As people are tested, are we asking about race?” Katz questions. “And when we do, are we able to capture the data accurately? What we are finding is we aren’t able to. So we don’t even know the true impact that COVID-19 has on people of color.”
With disparities that are wide and vast, GCF is taking action. Learn more about Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s initiatives and how you can make an impact by signing up for a training or donate to a fund of your choice.