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A Poor People's Pandemic Report:
Mapping the Intersection of Poverty, Race and COVID-19

A Poor People's Pandemic Report is a new digital report from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral RevivalRepairers of the BreachKairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, and Howard University School of Education.

Crises do not unfold independently of the conditions from which they arise. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated preexisting social and economic disparities that have long festered in the US. Widespread and unequal distribution of wealth, income, and resources prior to the pandemic created the conditions for many of the negative outcomes associated with the virus. However, there have been glaring omissions in efforts to consistently collect and disseminate data on poverty, income, and occupation as they relate to COVID-19 outcomes. Income and wealth information are not systematically collected for people who have died or fallen ill from COVID-19 in the US; therefore, there is no systematic way to know the poverty status of those who have died. This has left a gap in our assessment of the pandemic, including both its drivers and solutions.

A Poor People’s Pandemic Report: Mapping the Intersections of Poverty, Race and COVID-19 aggregates data from more than 3,200 US counties to connect information about COVID-19 deaths to other demographic characteristics, including income, race, health insurance status, and more. The data are organized in an interactive dashboard and digital report (StoryMap) to narrate the intersections between poverty, race, and the pandemic. To overcome the limits of current poverty measures, these poverty data include everyone living under 200% of the poverty line (Official Poverty Measure, or OPM). Where the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM) is used, it is clearly indicated. An intersectional analysis was used as a methodological tool to uncover intersections of poverty, age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability, and class with COVID-19 outcomes.

Key findings include the following:
  • During the pandemic, people living in poorer counties died at nearly two times the rate of people who lived in richer counties: After grouping counties by median household income into ten groups with equal population size (deciles), the report shows that death rates in the highest income group are half the death rates in the lowest income group.
  • During the deadliest phases of the pandemic, poorer counties saw many times more deaths than wealthier counties: A recent Pew study that broke the pandemic up into six phases shows that the deadliest phases of the pandemic to date were in winter 2020-2021, and the Omicron period. Except for the first phase in March 2020, death rates were many times higher in poorer counties than in richer counties.
  • Vaccination status cannot explain all the variation in death rates across income groups: In almost every income group, county vaccination coverage rates range from nearly full coverage (85%+) to almost no coverage (under 5%). Average vaccination rates are generally higher in high income counties than in middle- and low-income counties; however, these differences do not explain variations in death rates in the later waves of the pandemic.
  • Characteristics of counties with the highest death rates: Counties with the highest death rates are poorer than counties with lower death rates, and have higher percentages of people of color.
  • Characteristics of the poorest counties: In counties in the poorest decile, more than half of the population lives under 200% of the poverty line and people of color are over-represented.
SDSN and Poor People's Campaign launched the report at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on Monday, April 4. Outlets including The Guardian, USA Today, Democracy Now, and The Washington Post, among others, shared the results of this new study on COVID-19 and poverty.
Read the Digital Report
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