Child Health

The Two Deadly Diseases Plaguing Our Nation—and Our Children

June 4, 2020 | National

Put simply, the chaos and crisis that have enveloped our nation in recent months are a direct result of America’s deep-rooted systemic and institutional racism. 

The unjust killing of black bodies is as old as this country, but this shameful legacy has entered a new chapter in 2020. The disproportionate share of Black people dying from COVID-19 paired with the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many other Black people at the hands of police officers and white supremacists have put America’s long-standing devaluation and oppression of Black lives on full display. 

Across the country, Black communities are crying out for justice and equality, with protests taking place in every state in America. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those crying out for justice. Our nation’s Black children and families deserve to live free of fear, hatred, and violence. 

We are witnessing an unprecedented crisis of inequality that our nation must tackle head-on.  What our founder, Marian Wright Edelman, calls our nation’s birth defects of slavery and racism have led to generations of economic inequality, lack of access to high-quality and affordable health care, education, nutrition, and housing, and worse outcomes for the Black community. The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified these existing racial disparities. 

While Black Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for more than 50 percent of COVID-19 related deaths. Black workers are more likely to have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and the Black unemployment rate has doubled to over 16 percent according to the most recent data. While Black workers make up only one in nine workers overall, they make up about one in six of all front-line industry workers. Black workers are more likely to work in grocery stores, health care, public transit, child care, delivery, manufacturing, and the other industries we depend on to keep society functioning—even as their workers face increased risk of contracting COVID. As a result, Black Americans are being harmed and being killed disproportionately by this disease, just as they are by the diseases of racism, police brutality, and hatred in America.

This violence and harm only widens the racial gaps that hold back our nation’s Black children and families at every step. As outlined in our 2020 State of America’s Children Report, we know that to succeed, children need stable homes, quality health care, ample nutritious food, excellent schools, safe neighborhoods, and access to resources and opportunities that enable them to reach their potential. And yet too many Black children in our nation are systematically left behind. One in three Black children are living in poverty, with that number on the rise due to the economic fallout of COVID-19. Today’s median Black family owns $3,600–just 2 percent of the $147,000 of wealth the median White family owns. Many Black families with children cannot afford a safe, decent, or affordable home, due, in part, to the historical legacy of redlining and housing discrimination. Sadly, more than half of our nation’s homeless families are Black. One in four Black children do not know where their next meal will come from. As the data shows, the odds are stacked against Black children. COVID-19 is exacerbating the racial disparities that hurt Black children, while recent police killings signal to them that America does not value their lives or their future.

We must do better and stand up for our Black children if we are to achieve our mission to leave no child behind. We must fight for a system that treats Black children and families fairly, equally, and justly. We must commit to ending child poverty and creating a society that values the lives of all children by providing equitable, affordable, and high-quality education, health care, nutrition, and housing to all families. We will not stop fighting until we have dismantled systems of oppression and institutional racism and until our country values the lives of Black children just as much as White children.