Decades of Segregation and Discrimination Created Social Distancing in America

Recovery from Coronavirus Pandemic Should Address Social Distancing and Disparity Experienced by Black Americans

We have written in past blog posts about the racial disparity in New Jersey’s homeless population.

And a recent Brookings Institution article, “Black Americans were forced into ‘social distancing’ long before the coronavirus,” reminds us that historic housing segregation and discrimination in America has created social distance for Black Americans and Native Americans, also.

The current coronavirus pandemic in the United States certainly demands an effective and immediate emergency response. But the pandemic also exposed the effects of decades of housing segregation and discrimination experienced by Black Americans. The long-term recovery in the U.S. will provide the opportunity to develop strategies that address systemic racism and segregation. 

How, through the recovery, do we address the effects of segregation and discrimination so that all races and neighborhoods have equal access to education opportunities and other opportunities? As school districts across the country closed in recent weeks, school districts serving low-income and segregated populations scrambled to plan how to continue feeding students subsidized meals and deliver technology. Opportunities to affordable housing in neighborhoods of choice is closely tied to education and employment opportunities.

Low-income households, including Black Americans, living a low-income neighborhood as the result of the lack of educational and employment opportunities do not have the savings needed to weather the financial effects of the pandemic. These financial effects could include job losses, a reduction in wages, and unexpected medical expenses. The same households may also have less access to hospitals and should they become ill, access to testing and medical treatment for the coronavirus.

Another issue facing workers in low-income households who do not lose their jobs at the result of the coronavirus pandemic may be working at jobs that put them at further risk to exposure to the virus.  Low-income individuals, including Black Americans and other minorities, disproportionately make up the sector of the workforce that is still directly serving the public, including checking out customers at the grocery store and cleaning hospitals and medical offices.

In the article, Andre Perry, a Fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program writes

“However, if we don’t address structural inequalities in this country, recovery will be uneven and enduring. As officials implore the nation to practice “social distancing,” we should remember that, throughout history, it is that same concept which has made some Americans more vulnerable to the physical and economic effects of the coronavirus, as well as other epidemics and disasters.”

NJCounts 2019 data reinforces what we know about racial disparity and the effects of housing segregation, including the practice of redlining, in New Jersey. As communities work to meet the needs of the homeless population during the coronavirus pandemic, it is important to recognize the structural forces impacting trajectories into and out of homelessness.

NJCounts 2019 revealed the racial disparity in the population experiencing homelessness in New Jersey. This disparity is caused by segregation and discrimination, the same issues that led to concentration of Black American households in low-income neighborhoods that are not neighborhoods of opportunities or choice.

Disparities in who experiences homelessness and how this population is especially vulnerable to the coronavirus, highlights the impact of the pervasive structural force of systemic racism. Acknowledging and understanding the impact of systemic racism on those experiencing homelessness and living in low-income neighborhoods is key to developing an effective system responsive to the community and strengthened in cultural understanding and awareness.

It is critical that communities that seek to address and end homelessness also examine issues of racial inequity as they relate to causes of homelessness and access to housing and services. Solutions that seek to successfully address issues of homelessness must be implemented with a racial equity lens in order for their impact to be lasting and effective.

Perry concludes,

“If we don’t address the discrimination that is baked into current policy, efforts to address this pandemic will be undermined by the past practices that led to such inequality. Even as we heed the CDC’s advice on social distancing, policymakers need to see opportunities to bring historically disenfranchised communities closer to the systems they’ve been excluded from. The war against the virus and the war against structural racism can be fought at the same time.”