Biden urged to protect poor as US COVID deaths head toward 1 million

US President Joe Biden has been urged to act on the results of a new study which found the death rate due to COVID of the country’s poor was five times the level of those who were more financially secure.

As the number of COVID deaths in the US moves close to the 1 million figure, campaign group the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR) and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network  (SDSN) released findings of the Poor People’s Pandemic Digital Report and Intersectional Analysis, which found that the pandemic killed people in poor counties at a rate of up to five times more than those who live in wealthier counties.

The study examined 3,200 counties across the nation with data on COVID-19 deaths, income, race and other characteristics, fed into the matrix.

It found during the fifth phase (Delta variant), death rates were five times higher in the counties with the lowest median income than in those with the highest median income, the report found.

During the deadliest phases, which were the winter surge of 2020 and Omicron, the death rates were 4.5 times and three times higher.

COVID-19 has been a “poor people’s pandemic” in a nation that has 87 million uninsured people and 39 million who made less than a living wage before the pandemic hit, said Rev Dr Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the PPC:NCMR.

“Over the past few years, we have heard about how COVID is a great equalizer, that pandemics and plagues like this don’t discriminate, but this report shows very clearly that our society does,” she added.  “We had warnings; we gave warnings that poverty kills. Because before COVID even hit, a nation that has more housing and medical technology and GDP than we can ever imagine, allowed 250,000 people a year to die from poverty, from inequality. Our nation has gotten accustomed to death, especially when it’s the deaths of poor and low-income people.

Dr Jeffrey Sachs, president of The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Columbia University professor and co-chair of the SDSN USA network, called on President Biden and the country’s leadership to “review the data to understand how unjust this system has been and to take action to rectify.”

The data shows “a story of profound bravery and difficulty faced by the most vulnerable people in our country who have kept our country running, who suffered the biggest job losses, the most economic dislocation, rental evictions, and disease and death because they were in the front line,” he said. “They could not withdraw. They could not safely stay away. They worked for all of America and we have a debt to pay. We have a moral obligation to face this truth, to recognise it and to rectify the injustices in our society.”

The report found overall, 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 median income group are half the death rates of those on the lowest median income.

PPC:NCMR said a major part of the government narrative around COVID-19 cases and deaths has been to emphasise how many people are unvaccinated.

But the report said: “While vaccines have been pushed as the central protective measure against COVID-19, vaccination status does not explain all the variation in death rates across income groups. In almost every group, county vaccine coverage ranges from nearly full coverage (85% or higher) to almost no coverage (under 5%). Average vaccination rates are generally higher in the highest income counties than in middle-and low-income counties, however, these differences do not explain the whole variation in death rates in the later phases of the pandemic.”

The poorest counties also had twice the uninsured rate of higher income counties, the study showed.

Dr Helen Bond, an associate professor at Howard University and a co-chair for SDSN USA said: “Our findings show based upon previous research and the research that we did with over 3,200 counties, that when poverty intersects with race, age, gender ability, and other characteristics, we have what we call an accumulation of risk, a compounding of disadvantage.

“Policy that does not address the lived experience is policy (that’s) full of holes and blind spots. And in order to better to have better policy, we must have better data.”

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