May 8, 2020 - Health

The coronavirus' double whammy on vulnerable populations

Adapted from KFF; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from KFF; Chart: Axios Visuals

Minorities and low-income people are more likely to become seriously ill if infected with the coronavirus, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

Why it matters: These populations are also less likely to be able to social distance, or have been hit hardest economically by doing so. The coronavirus may be a national problem, but its impact is most devastating on the people who were already worse off.

Adapted from KFF; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from KFF; Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: Even before the virus hit, minorities suffered from worse health outcomes, in part because they're more likely to be low-income — which is also correlated with higher rates of chronic conditions.

  • People with underlying health conditions — like heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), uncontrolled asthma, diabetes or obesity — are more vulnerable to severe illness from the novel coronavirus.
  • Health care and socioeconomic disparities also exacerbate Native American and black Americans' risk.
  • And "even though the shares of Hispanic and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander nonelderly adults at higher risk for serious illness if infected are similar to that of White adults, these groups face disparities in other health, social, and economic factors that may contribute to barriers to health care associated with coronavirus," KFF adds.

Between the lines: People with low-income jobs deemed essential — like grocery store workers, home health aides or delivery drivers — are also at higher risk of contracting the virus.

  • Those in other low-income jobs, like in retail or restaurants, are more likely to be out of work right now or working fewer hours.
  • As the fight between businesses and workers heats up in states reopening sooner than public health experts advise, low-income workers have less of an option to quit if they feel unsafe.

The bottom line: No matter how you look at it, the coronavirus is hitting hardest those who can least afford it.

Go deeper: Coronavirus hits people of color harder, and its economic impact is unequal, too

Go deeper