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Poll: Pandemic Worsens Minorities' Income And Savings

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The coronavirus pandemic has taken a bigger financial toll on minority communities in this country. That's according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee has the story about how people are coping.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Juella Stanton (ph) made about $30,000 a year working as an assistant teacher at a private school in Baltimore. When the school closed in March, she thought she'd be back at work in two weeks.

JUELLA STANTON: Now, up to that point, we was under the impression that it wasn't that serious, that everything was going to be OK.

CHATTERJEE: But as schools in the state switched to virtual classrooms indefinitely, Stanton lost her job.

STANTON: They don't need an assistant right now because the kids are not physically in the building.

CHATTERJEE: She received her last paycheck in March. The little money she had saved didn't last long.

STANTON: I had about $300 savings that was basically gone by the end of March.

CHATTERJEE: Stanton had no money for rent or utilities and was struggling to put food on the table. According to the NPR poll, 40% of Black households, like Stanton's, that have lost income during the pandemic said they're having difficulties paying rent or mortgage; 43% said they're having trouble paying utilities. Robert Blendon at the Harvard Chan School oversaw the poll.

ROBERT BLENDON: Sixty percent of Black Americans say they're having serious financial problems since the COVID outbreak.

CHATTERJEE: That's compared to 36% of white households with the same experience. The poll also found that two other communities of color, Latinos and Native Americans, are also struggling financially in greater numbers.

BLENDON: The three groups that are being just ravaged by this epidemic are reporting unbelievable problems of just trying to cope with their day-to-day lives.

CHATTERJEE: Blendon says because these communities also have a higher rate of infection, it's even harder for them to cope financially.

BLENDON: You have people who don't have savings, they can't pay bills. And then you're going to - telling them, well, somebody in the household tested positive; nobody can go work. How are they going to keep their lives going?

CHATTERJEE: The poll's results reflect racial disparities in wealth that predate the pandemic, says Valerie Wilson.

VALERIE WILSON: There were significant racial disparities in wages, significant racial disparities in unemployment, significant racial disparities in the kinds of jobs people held.

CHATTERJEE: Wilson heads the Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy at the Economic Policy Institute. She says Black, Latino and Native workers were more likely to have jobs that were lost during the pandemic or jobs that did not allow them to work from the safety of their homes, therefore putting them more at risk of getting infected. Wilson says people in these communities are also less likely to have savings, making it harder for them to weather times of economic downturn. And she worries that the pandemic has worsened these disparities.

WILSON: We're going to see, coming out of this pandemic, an expansion of the racial wealth gap...

CHATTERJEE: That's what happened during the Great Recession.

WILSON: ...With the extensive foreclosures in communities of color, and the loss of housing wealth in particular.

CHATTERJEE: As for Juella Stanton, she had to move out of her rental home. She says she's fortunate she didn't end up homeless, thanks to her sister, who still has her job working for the city government.

STANTON: My sister helped me get a storage unit. I moved my furniture into a storage unit, and I moved in with my sister - me and my two kids, my 11-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old son.

CHATTERJEE: Stanton is grateful for the help, but money is still tight. She applied for unemployment but didn't receive anything until July. And the $280 she now gets from the state doesn't go far.

STANTON: First thing I buy is any personal hygiene items me or my kids need.

CHATTERJEE: Then there's phone and utility bills to pay, food to buy. What little she has left, she buys a treat or two for her kids, who've mostly been stuck indoors since the pandemic.

STANTON: Just trying to keep them happy.

CHATTERJEE: But it's hard for her to be happy. She's lost a sister-in-law to COVID-19, had a friend in a coma for six weeks on a ventilator and knows of many others in her community who have died. She worries about keeping her son, who has asthma, and her 82-year-old mother safe from the virus. When I ask her how she's coping, she says...

STANTON: Honestly, a lot of prayer and a lot of patience. I try not to let things bother me 'cause I don't want to become depressed. So, you know, you just pray and hope that it's all over soon.

CHATTERJEE: Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.