Many White Americans Are Ready To Reopen The Economy. Black Americans Aren’t.
Graphics by Ryan Best
Even hard-hit states like New York enable companies to bring their businesses back to life. Americans are struggling with one of COVID-19's most painful trade-offs: a damaged economy in which millions of people are unemployed because public health measures have been taken to slow the spread of the virus.
And most Americans believe that public health risks are still important when the economy reopens. However, there is also increasing evidence that several months of economic hardship have changed the way some people rate costs. According to a new survey by the American Enterprise Institute, which ran from May 21 to June 5, 41 percent of Americans say the government should give companies the opportunity to reopen, even if it means putting some people at risk compared to 22 percent at the end of March.
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But not all Americans are keen to reopen the stores. In fact, there is a pretty big gap between white, black, and Hispanic Americans in their answers to this question. Black Americans, in particular, were still largely in favor of company closures. The AEI survey found that 82 percent of black Americans said it was better for the government to take all necessary steps to ensure public safety, even if it means that businesses stay closed and harm the economy longer, while only 16 percent said companies should do so when some are at risk - a finding that has remained largely unchanged since March. A solid majority (65 percent) of Hispanic Americans also believed that public health needs should come first, despite falling from 81 percent in March.
However, the proportion of white Americans who gave public health priority over the economy fell from 76 percent in March to 50 percent now. In the June poll, almost half of white Americans (49 percent) thought the government should reopen the economy, even if it meant putting some people at risk.
Other surveys have found a similar trend. According to an Economist / YouGov survey conducted on June 7-9, only 8 percent of black Americans said that it is currently safe to reopen the national economy, compared with 15 percent of Hispanic Americans and 25 percent of Americans white americans. And, as the AEI survey points out, there are enormous racial differences within the COVID 19 pandemic - with Black and Hispanic Americans bearing the brunt of both the health and economic consequences of the virus. The public health crisis is particularly acute for black Americans who die of COVID-19 much more often than white or Hispanic Americans. In interviews, black Americans who participated in the survey raised these concerns and told us that their desire for a governmental approach that prioritizes public security is not reflected in many states' plans. Some even said they were afraid that more people would die from it.
Dominique Anderson, 30, said he was alarmed that his home state of Texas was allowing restaurants to fill, despite the fact that the number of cases had increased. "I don't think it's safe how we do it now [the reopening of the economy]," he said. The topic was particularly emotional for him because a close friend of the family had died of COVID-19 only a few weeks earlier. "I understand that this threatens people's livelihoods - I know a lot of people who have lost their jobs," he said. "But I fear that reopening so quickly will cost more lives."
The AEI survey found that Anderson's experience is anything but unique, especially for black Americans who are more likely than white or Hispanic Americans to know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. As the table below shows, a majority (54 percent) of black Americans indicated that they or someone they knew personally tested positive for the virus compared to 46 percent of Hispanic and 40 percent of white Americans. And a series of AP / NORC surveys conducted between April and June showed that black Americans were much more likely than white Americans to report that someone nearby had died of COVID-19.
More black Americans know someone with COVID-19
Percentage of respondents who said they knew someone in each of these categories who tested positive for the corona virus
White, not spanish
Black, not Spanish
Someone in my household
Someone outside my household
I do not know anybody
The total number cannot be added to 100 percent due to rounding or because some respondents did not answer. Survey from May 21 to June 5, 2020 with a sample size of 3,504 adults. The answers are not mutually exclusive, with the exception of "I don't know anyone."
Source: American Enterprise Institute
Perhaps because of these personal connections, black Americans are also following the news about the impact and course of the pandemic more closely: fifty-nine percent of black Americans said they followed the news of the coronavirus very closely, compared with 44 percent of Hispanic Americans and 43 Percent of white Americans.
And they're much more pessimistic about what's ahead. Only 25 percent of black Americans believe the worst pandemic is behind us, compared with 37 percent of Hispanic Americans and 42 percent of white Americans. In fact, 69 percent of black Americans believe the worst is ahead, compared to 54 percent of Hispanic Americans and only 45 percent of white Americans. "I watch the news a lot and am very scared and upset when I see the [case] numbers go up," said Leslie Ann Jordan, 59, who lives in Virginia. "It feels like people think we have this virus under control and they can just go out and live their lives as usual, which is just not the reality we live in."
[Related: How Americans See the Coronavirus Crisis and Trump's Response]
It is also not difficult to understand why black Americans have a poorer view of the virus' trajectory. Not only do you know someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, but you also bear the brunt of the economic difficulties that have resulted from the shutdown orders. According to the survey, black and Hispanic Americans were significantly more likely than white Americans to report that they have been late in renting or billing since February, have had trouble paying for food, have withdrawn money from a savings account or 401,000, or have borrowed money from family or friends.
In addition, the survey found that Black and Hispanic Americans were less likely than white Americans to say that they had an emergency or rainy day fund that would cover their spending for three months, making them particularly vulnerable if they suddenly lost their jobs or got sick . However, the survey also found that the pandemic is forcing black Americans who have savings to spend their bank accounts much faster than white Americans. Almost half (48 percent) of black Americans said they had spent at least half of their money on rainy days in the past few months - including 19 percent who said they had spent their entire emergency savings account. In contrast, only 12 percent of white Americans said they spent at least half of their emergency fund, and only 3 percent said they spent all of their savings on rainy days.
And black families are exposed to other types of stress. The survey found that 28 percent of black parents with children under the age of 18 said that responsibility for childcare during the COVID-19 pandemic was very difficult compared to 18 percent of Hispanic Americans and 8 percent of White Americans. A respondent who asked to withhold his name said it was incredibly stressful to find schooling for his two young children while juggling lost income and trying not to go to shops. "You only live in this state of insecurity and you feel very vulnerable," he said. "What if I lose my job and can't support my family? What if I get sick? What if my children don't go back to school in autumn? Everything feels possible at the moment."
In general, black Americans thought it would take longer for life to return to normal. In the survey, many black Americans said they felt very uncomfortable with the idea of returning to many everyday activities that involved close contact with other people - such as going to church, a nail salon, or a movie theater.
And a solid majority (61 percent) of black Americans said that life in the U.S. will no longer normalize before the end of the year, compared with 53 percent of white Americans and 49 percent of Hispanic Americans. This could be because they are particularly negative about how the federal government and President Trump deal with the COVID 19 outbreak.
Overall, Americans are not sure how the federal government and Trump will respond to the pandemic, but this is especially true for black Americans. For example, only 40 percent of black Americans thought the federal government was coping with the pandemic, compared to 57 percent in March. In contrast, the majority (51 percent) of white Americans still said the federal government is coping well with the pandemic - a modest 10 point drop from March. Black Americans were also particularly likely to believe that the government should do more to help people who were hurt by the crisis: 74 percent of black Americans said the federal government should do more to help people who lost their jobs compared to 59 percent of Hispanic Americans and 57 percent of White Americans.
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"We have no leadership," said Gregory Coney, 57, who lives in Massachusetts. "The answer is about struggle and power and not about doing what we have to do to protect people."
Jordan, who is particularly nervous about her own health because of her asthma, said she understands why some Americans want to mitigate the economic harm - she feels happy to still have a paycheck. But she told us that even though she doesn't know anyone who has tested positive for the virus, she sees it as luck and not something that she can rely on in the future. "I really don't think we should mess around with this disease," she said. "And yet everyone is on the move. I'm worried that we opened too early. If I'm honest, I'm more scared now than before. "
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