February 29, 2020 was a day of reckoning for the State of Oregon, when the first case of the “novel coronavirus” was detected in Clackamas County. We were all uncertain about what was to come, but few of us assumed COVID-19 would be with us today two years later.
For many of us, our stay-at-home started on Friday, March 13, 2020. We took our laptops to our kitchen tables, figured out how the mute button works, and carried on, thinking that if we were persistent in our social distancing, we would be back to normal in a month or so.
Two years later, the story of COVID-19 in our country has become not so much a story about resilience or persistence, but about systems that fail to protect communities when emergencies arise.
In the early days of the pandemic, many communities immediately experienced adverse impacts to their financial well-being. According to early reports from the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, communities of color suffered immediate, debilitating losses from the early days of the pandemic. Latinx communities across the country were especially hit hard by loss of income. For the week of April 23, 2020, 57% of individuals identifying as Latinx in the country reported lost income due to COVID. Four weeks later, the number jumped to 60%. By the end of May, nearly 2 out of 3 Latinx people in this country lost income because of COVID. 57% of Black and Asian communities reported lost income at the same time. For white households, the number was 45%. Similarly, 65% of Latinx households and 75% of Black households reported their previous month’s rent was due or past-due.
We have long argued that the financial systems currently in place intentionally disadvantage communities of color. Despite the integral roles that communities of color play in our society, our work has always been less valued, our employment has always been less stable, and our housing has always been less affordable. The pandemic stress-tested these systems, and the results were predictable: white families suffered less, and communities of color suffered immensely, and died more often.
While COVID-relief legislation at the federal and state level helped lessen the impact communities in Oregon felt during the pandemic, the solutions passed have overwhelmingly provided bandages and props to keep the current systems going. Two years later, communities of color still have systemic lack of access to wealth building and insufficient access to safe, stable and affordable homes.
We have a duty as a society to look back on these two years of COVID-19 and perpetuated racial injustices, to acknowledge the disproportionate impacts racism has in our supports and responses around public health and safety—be it to an exceptional virus or systemic poverty. Then, we must pivot our attention to dismantling these oppressive systems and to build up new systems that guarantee prosperity among communities of color.