Opinion / The Nation and the World

Racial and economic injustice in the COVID-19 pandemic

As of May 26, 2020, Massachusetts has the fifth highest number of coronavirus cases in the country with 93,271 total cases. While the state as a whole has been hit especially hard, cases vary immensely on a town-by-town basis. In fact, when comparing coronavirus hotspots in the state with racial and socioeconomic data, communities of color—in more urban areas especially—have far more cases than whiter, and often more affluent, communities. 

Take Randolph and Wellesley, for example. Both are fairly large towns—Randolph has a population of 34,398, and Wellesley has a population of 29,673—and are located in the greater Boston area. Yet, according to data from WBUR, Randolph has 2511.77 cases per 100,000 people, while Wellesley has 724.56 cases per 100,000.

The differences between Randolph and Wellesley primarily lie in their demographics. According to 2010 Massachusetts census data, Randolph is 38.33% black or African American, 6.41% Hispanic or Latino, 12.45% Asian and Pacific Islander, and 41.61% white. Wellesley, on the other hand, is 2.04% black or African American, 3.65% Hispanic or Latino, 9.85% Asian and Pacific Islander, and 85.12% white. And according to a 2018 Boston Globe article, the median household income of Randolph is $69,969 per year, while the median household income of Wellesley is $176,852 per year. 

The disparity in the rate of cases is clearly correlated with the differences in racial and socioeconomic makeup of each respective town. 

The median household income of Wellesley is more than $100,000 more than the median household income of Randolph. Wellesley is clearly at a much greater advantage. Many of the people living there can afford to not go to work and may have the privilege to work from home. Randolph, in comparison, has been put at a much more dire position. A larger part of Randolph’s population is made up of essential workers, working in blue-collar or social service industries. These populations also tend to live in closer quarters. So while on the surface Wellesley and Randolph appear to be fairly similar towns, the reality is, one of these towns is far more privileged than the other. 

Coronavirus itself cannot discriminate. However, it is not a coincidence that people of color and low-income communities have been some of the most affected populations. The systems of inequality present in Massachusetts have allowed for the wealthy, and oftentimes white, to bypass many of the struggles those on the frontlines are currently facing. As this pandemic worsens, as COVID-19 protests continue to erupt, and businesses continue to open prematurely, it’s vital to remember the privileges many of us have. As we create the “new normal” in the wake of this pandemic, we must include racial and economic justice in our creation.

Image: Massachusetts coronavirus cases, by town or city, as of May 27, 2020, from WBUR.

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