SOMA Action Racial Justice Committee: Black, Latinx Indigenous Americans Hardest Hit by COVID-19

by The Village Green
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From SOMA Action:

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the entire country, there is no question that Black, Latinx and Indigenous Americans have been hardest hit. By every metric, the consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic for people of color have been far more negative.  The hospitalization and mortality rate for Black Americans greatly exceeds their percentage of the population. Counties with higher than average Black populations account for 52% of the hospitalizations and 58% of the deaths nationwide.* Here in New Jersey, Black residents are 13.7% of the state population, but 19.3% of the deaths.

On the economic front, in two months, the COVID-19 pandemic has erased ten years of job gains, resulting in rates of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression.  The overall rate of 14.7% masks a 16.7% rate for Black Americans and 18.9% for Latinx Americans, who were laid off at an even greater rate.**

Black and Latinx workers are over-represented in jobs deemed essential, such as healthcare, public transportation, food processing and food service and thus more susceptible to contracting the virus.  Yet many of their employers refuse to provide safe working conditions and adequate protective gear. Many of these same employers also fail to provide paid sick leave. Between Trump’s use of the Defense Production Act to prevent meat processing plants from closing and Republican governors’ premature re-opening, rendering those same workers ineligible for unemployment, Black and Brown workers are forced to choose between their lives and their livelihood.

Thanks to an unjust criminal justice system, Black and brown people are also disproportionately represented in our nation’s prisons, which have emerged as coronavirus hotspots. According to a study conducted by The Marshall Project, thousands of incarcerated people have contracted the virus, yet only a handful of states are conducting robust testing of prison inmates and staff.*** New Jersey has the highest coronavirus death rate in the country.****

These disproportionate negative outcomes are a direct result of decades of structural racism and inequality. The horrific toll on communities of color is the clearest evidence yet that the status quo is unsustainable. At a moment when our federal government is spending trillions of dollars on stimulus, it is imperative that rescue efforts actually address the needs of those hardest hit.

The SOMA Action Racial Justice Committee calls on our elected representatives to support the following policy initiatives:

  1. Immediate passage of  The Emergency Money to People Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Ryan and Rep. Ro Khanna in the House and Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris in the Senate. This bill will provide $2,000 to every American over 16 making less than $130,000 annually for six months.
  2. Ensure affordable or free healthcare for all. A pandemic is no time to rip healthcare away from Americans, yet that is precisely what Trump is doing.
  3. Support Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s proposed legislation, the Saving Our Street Act, which would provide $124.5 billion for loans to small minority and women owned businesses.
  4. Support legislation to allocate $4 billion dollars to the states for election security, which includes money for vote-by-mail, curbside voting and in person early voting.
  5. New Jersey state and county officials must accelerate the early release of non-violent offenders; ramp up testing in jails and prisons and provide basic supplies like soap and water and masks to prisoners and staff. Failure to do so has the potential to turn he punishment for every offense into the death penalty.

*(Source:  “Black communities account for a disproportionate number of Covid-19 deaths,” by Shelby Lin Erdman,, 5/6/20).

**(Source:  “Power Up:  Black and Hispanic Americans are getting laid off at higher rates than white workers,” by Jacqueline Alemany, The Washington Post, 5/7/20).

***(Source:  “Tracking the Spread of Coronavirus in Prisons,” by Katie Park, Tom Meagher and Weihua Li,, 4/24/20).

****(Source:  “N.J. Prisons have the highest death rate in the nation, new study shows,” by Blake Nelson,, 5/3/20).

About SOMA Action

SOMA Action is an active and growing group of 1800+ diverse members from South Orange, Maplewood and neighboring communities. We are committed to a full range of progressive causes, including social and environmental justice, a healthy nation and planet and a transparent and accountable government. SOMA Action stands in solidarity with other groups working toward these goals.

We welcome all who share our values and want to help drive progressive change. To learn more, join our email list via the form on this page. We also have an active Facebook group, just search for SOMA Action to find us.


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