By: Marcelo E. SIles

Editorial credit: I Wei Huang /
Editorial credit: I Wei Huang /

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate socio-economic impact on racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. The socio-economic gaps and inequalities between White Americans and racial/ethnic minority groups that prevailed before the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus were revealed to the nation and exacerbated by the pandemic. Inequalities became evident in cases and mortality as the contagion spread across the nation and reached nearly 30 million total cases by mid-March 2021.
Table 1 shows the distribution of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases by race and ethnicity in the United States on January 31, 2021. American Indians have the highest ratio of cases relative to their population (1.86), followed by Hispanics (1.12), Blacks (1.0), Whites (0.93) and Asians (0.64). The ratio for American Indians is three times that of Asians, and twice that of Whites. The ratio for Hispanics is 1.75 times that of Asians, and 1.2 times that of Whites.
Table 1.  Distribution of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases by Race and Ethnicity in the United States as January 31, 2021.

Figure 1 shows the number of deaths among the five racial and ethnic groups as of February 2, 2021 when the number approached 400,000. These occurred within the first 10 months of the pandemic. By the end of the month, the number of deaths had surpassed half a million, resulting in enormous human, social, and economic costs.
Figure 1. Total Number of COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity, February 2, 2021.

Figure 2 shows the number of deaths per 100,000 people for the different racial and ethnic groups, with Blacks having the highest rate at 159 deaths, followed by American Indians and Alaskan Natives with 152, and Hispanics with 132 deaths. As the ratios show, Asians (82) and Whites (109) had the lowest rates of death. The rate for Blacks was almost twice that for Asians, close to 1.5 times higher than for Whites, and 1.2 times higher than for Hispanics.
Figure 2. COVID-19 Deaths per 100,000 Persons by Race/Ethnicity for the U.S., December 22, 2020.

Table 2 further makes clear the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minorities relative to non-Hispanic Whites by presenting rates for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. When considering the rates for cases, we can observe that the ones for American Indians/Alaskan Natives is 1.8 times greater than that for Whites, while those for Hispanics and Blacks are 1.7 and 1.4 times, respectively, that for Whites. Similarly, the ratio of hospitalizations for Hispanics is 4.1 times higher than that for Whites, while those for American Indians/Alaskan Natives and Blacks are 4.0 and 3.7 times higher, respectively. Finally, when considering the ratios related to deaths, we observe that Hispanics and Blacks have rates 2.8 times higher than that for Whites, while that for American Indians/Alaskan Natives is 2.6 times higher.  All these figures shed light on the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minority groups. One of the areas in which the pandemic hit minorities the hardest is in employment, with loss of employment especially high during the months of April and May. The labor market recovered starting in June but never reached its pre-pandemic levels.

Table 2.  COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by

Table 3 presents unemployment rates by gender and race/ethnicity during the 4th quarter of 2019 and the same quarter in 2020. We can observe that for the total U.S. population 16 years of age and older the unemployment rate almost doubled, going from 3.3 in 2019 to 6.5 in 2020. The unemployment rate for Whites increased by 2.8% while that for Hispanics increased by 4.7%, for Blacks it increased by 4.5%, and for Asians by 4.1%. These figures show that the increase in the unemployment rate for Hispanics is 1.67 times or 67% higher than that for Whites, while the increase in the unemployment rate for Blacks is 1.6 times or 60% higher than that for Whites. This again sheds light on the uneven effects of the pandemic among racial/ethnic groups, with minorities negatively impacted the most. In terms of gender, the increases in unemployment were higher among men than women, except among Asians, with women experiencing a higher increase (4.8 points) in unemployment than men (3.4 points).
Table 3. Unemployment Rates by Gender and Race/Ethnicity, 4th Quarters, 2019 & 2020

Education was also negatively impacted by the pandemic, with most schools having to shift from in-person classes to virtual and online instruction.  A June 2020 report from McKinsey & Company estimated potential learning losses for the overall population, minority groups, and low-income students due to the quality of remote instruction. The estimates shown in Table 4 assume that all students will return to in-person schooling in January 2021, but we know that did not occur.
According to the study 32% of the overall population of K-12 students could experience learning losses even if they are educated by average and above-average remote instruction. Approximately 48% will experience loss when they have access only to low-quality remote instruction and another 20% will experience losses if they do not have remote instruction. Most Hispanic, Black, and low-income students have access only to low-quality remote instruction and are predicted to experience high learning losses.
Table 4.  Learning Loss Due to Quality level of Remote Instruction, Percent of K-12 Students

The McKinsey study also estimated the average number of months of learning loss by K-12 students receiving online instruction compared to typical in-classroom learning (see Figure 3). Low-income students could lose slightly more than a year, 12.4 months, of instruction when taking online classes; Blacks more than 10 months; Hispanics just over 9 months, and White students only 6 months of loss. These figures show the importance of in-person instruction for all students. To avoid learning losses, it is imperative that the pandemic be brought under control and schools open as soon as possible. With vaccinations, this might occur by Fall 2021.
Figure 3.  Average Months of Learning Lost Compared with Typical in-Classroom Learning,

According to a study done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, all racial and ethnic minority groups face significant financial, employment, and health problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Table 5 shows that up to 72% of Latinos participating in the study reported facing serious financial problems: 33% of them had problems paying their bills, utilities, and credit cards; 63% reported that an adult household member had lost their job; 25% had problems affording medical care; and 47% reported negative health consequences as a result. Related figures for Blacks show similar patterns to those of Latinos, with 75% of them reporting serious financial problems and 73% reporting negative health consequences due to the pandemic.

Table 5.  Serious Problems Facing Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Finally, a study done by Priyanka Boghani reported the impact of the pandemic on poverty rates. Monthly poverty rates before the pandemic for Whites were around 11%, while for Blacks and Hispanics they were around 24%. Poverty rates were estimated to have increased by 1.3 points to 12.3% for Whites, by 2.9% for Hispanics to 26.9%, and by 2.3 points to 26.3% for Blacks. The increase in the poverty rate for Hispanics during the pandemic is more than double the increase in the poverty rate for Whites.
 In summary, the data presented in this report clearly show the disproportionate impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on racial and ethnic minority groups in this country, increasing the already problematic gaps that existed before the start of the pandemic between these groups and the White population. The high numbers of deaths and hospitalizations in proportion to their populations that racial and ethnic minority groups experienced, in addition to the high and increasing unemployment rates, increases in poverty rates, low or poor access to online education, huge financial problems, and difficulties dealing with health issues, including how to pay for medical care, make it very difficult for them to cope with daily life. Although some political leaders are launching initiatives to eliminate poverty, only by transforming the structural features and political and economic dynamics that maintain inequalities can any success be achieved.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. “COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity,” November 30.
Dorn Emma, Hancock Brian, Sarakatsannis Jimmy, and Viruleg Ellen. 2020. “COVID-19 and Student Learning in the United States the Hurt Could Last a Lifetime,” McKinsey & Company, June 1. Available online:
Elflein, John. 2021. “Coronavirus COVID-19 Cases by Ethnicity in the US,” Statista, January 2021. Available Online:
Elflein, John. 2021. “Number of coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths in the U.S. as of February 2, 2021, by race,” Statista, February 5. Available in Online:
Robert Wood Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 2020. “The Impact of Coronavirus on Households by Race/Ethnicity,” NPR, September. Available in Online:
The COVID-19 Racial Data Tracker. 2020. “COVID-19 is affecting Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color the most,” December 22. Available Online:
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey,” January 8, 2021, Available Online: