Coronavirus Is Exposing Racial Gaps In NJ, Newark Advocates Say's Eric Kiefer reports

NEWARK, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy needs to take a deeper look at racial data as the new coronavirus spreads throughout New Jersey. The results might reveal some serious gaps in the Garden State's social safety net, according to a Newark-based social justice group.

Earlier this week, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) and its partners with the United Black Agenda sent a letter to Murphy, claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing earthquakes in communities of color across the state.

According to the coalition, "structural racism" that existed long before the viral outbreak is likely to cause a disproportionate amount of sickness and death in black and Latina/Latino communities.

The NJISJ offered some examples to back up the coalition's claim in their letter.

DEATH RATES - "Black people are dying across this country from COVID-19 at strikingly disproportionate rates. That outcome is caused by decades of racism reflected in disinvestment in black communities, grinding poverty, relentless hyper-segregation, redlining and substandard public housing, healthcare, and educational opportunities, police brutality, food deserts, pollution and landfills. As a result of these factors, black people suffer from higher rates of the underlying conditions on which COVID-19 preys: asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes and more."

PAYING FOR HEALTH CARE – "Black and Latina/Latino communities, as well as other communities of color here in New Jersey, also confront some of the worst racial wealth disparities in the nation. While the median net worth for a white family is $352,070, the latest available numbers show that, for New Jersey's Latina/Latino and black families, it is just $7,020 and $5,900, respectively. This not only impacts the ability to access proper healthcare but also to take desired precautions."

ESSENTIAL JOBS – "A disproportionate number of low-wage black and Latina/Latino New Jerseyans are likely to have 'essential' jobs that can't be done remotely and which put them in close contact with others – including in nursing homes, at cash registers, in kitchens, or as part of custodial teams. Black people are also more likely to use public transportation to travel to jobs, making social distancing difficult."

YOUTH PRISONS – "Our youth prisons are another place where the impact of the virus has racial implications. Black kids are almost 21 times more likely to be in prison than white children—the highest disparity rate in America, even though black and white children commit most offenses at similar rates. As of May 1, 2019, just eight white kids are incarcerated in New Jersey, compared to 113 black kids, according to state data. In addition, New Jersey has the fourth-highest Latina/Latino to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the country. That means if the virus hits youth prison facilities, black and Latina/Latino kids will be disproportionately affected."

According to the NJISJ, the Murphy administration has begun releasing some initial racial impact data.

The early findings – while not surprising – are troubling, the group said. For 729 of the 1,232 deaths where the information is available, 24 percent are black – but black people make up only 15 percent of the state's population.

Advocates are demanding that state officials answer the following questions, broken down by age, race, ethnicity, municipality and gender:

  • Who has been tested?
  • Who has tested positive?
  • What is the fatality rate?
  • Who is or has been hospitalized?
  • What is the incidence of testing, infection, hospitalization and fatalities among the youth and adult incarcerated populations?

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