The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the lives of every Nebraskan, but its devastation has not been felt equally by all. Nebraskans who were struggling to make ends meet before the public health crisis are among the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Early estimates suggest that child poverty will increase by 53% and that the steepest increases in poverty will be experienced by Black and Latinx Americans. Nebraskans need real-time data about how COVID-19 has affected child and family well-being to inform an equitable response to the crisis.
A Crisis on Multiple Fronts: Race, Poverty, and COVID-19 in Nebraska
The effects of the ongoing global pandemic are rooted in the same systems that uphold inequities in wealth, health, and well-being for too many Nebraskans. Our state motto, “Equality before the Law,” has long failed children of color and children living in poverty. The staggering racial disparities in new data on health and socioeconomic outcomes for Americans living through this crisis are the direct result of a long history of failures in public policy.
Systemic racism is widespread in every system that each of us relies on, including health care, criminal justice, housing, and the labor market. Dramatic disparities in data by race and ethnicity are deeply rooted in policy decisions of the past and present. Today’s racial wealth gap, for example, is significantly driven by racist policies that launched many white Americans and their descendants into the middle class through homeownership, while displacing and excluding people of color from the same opportunities. The pandemic will only worsen many existing inequities.
Nationally, the coronavirus has been deadliest for Black and Indigenous Americans. In Nebraska, people of color are overrepresented among COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, while white Nebraskans are underrepresented. The same Nebraskans that are suffering directly from the virus are also the least likely to have access to the resources that they need—financial equity and savings, health care, safe and fair jobs—to weather the crisis.
The Nebraska COVID-19 Data Hub
We need clear information about how the coronavirus has affected the lives of Nebraskans, and who has been the most impacted. The stories that many Nebraskans have shared in recent weeks about their fears in returning to work, delays in accessing benefits, and unimaginable losses of loved ones show that unemployment figures are not enough to paint the full picture of the devastation that many families and communities will have to rebuild from.
Voices for Children in Nebraska is introducing a new project, the Nebraska COVID-19 Data Hub to share insights about how children and families have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The Nebraska COVID-19 Data Hub gathers state data from five areas of family and child well-being that have been directly affected by the pandemic: education, employment and poverty, food insecurity, health, and housing. As a data-driven organization, we know that data is not complete without the input of the Nebraskans represented by the data. It is our intention that the Nebraska COVID-19 Data Hub inspires community-driven solutions that will bring us on the path to an equitable and lasting recovery for all Nebraskans.
The Data Hub project will be updated monthly with real-time data to ensure that policymakers, community stakeholders, and members of the public have the information they need to create an equitable and resilient response to the crisis. Be sure to check out key takeaways in our monthly snapshots:
The global public health crisis has worsened disparities in health for Nebraskans with higher rates of underlying health conditions and those with poor access to quality health care. Many lower-income workers have lost job-based health coverage but are unable to afford private health coverage and ineligible for Medicaid as the state has yet to implement Medicaid expansion, which was approved by voters in 2018. American Indian, Black, and Latinx Americans are already less likely to have consistent access to quality health care, and are more likely to experience health or environmental risk factors that contribute to higher rates of illness and death during a public health crisis. Immigrant families may be ineligible for COVID-19 testing and treatment, or afraid to access necessary health care for fear of immigration enforcement.
Employment and Poverty
The pandemic has deepened existing inequalities for lower wage workers who are unable to reduce their risk for exposure to the virus and are less prepared for a sudden loss of income. Black and Latinx workers, especially women, are more likely to be employed in low-wage industries without options for remote work, access to paid sick leave, and health and safety protections in the workplace. Immigrant workers, in particular, are overrepresented among essential workers and industries most affected by layoffs, and are more likely to be ineligible for federal relief benefits.
The economic impact of COVID-19 has intensified disparities in consistent access to healthy food for families struggling to make ends meet. Low-income families with children, single-mother households, American Indian families, Black families, and Latinx families experience food insecurity at higher rates. Struggling families who are home-bound or immunocompromised, those without reliable transportation, and those living in neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores are at greater risk of food insecurity and may be unable to access food distribution sites.
Widespread school and child care closures have exacerbated educational inequities for Nebraska families with limited capacity for online learning and for parents who are unable to afford child care. Low-income families with children, especially families of color and households where women are the primary breadwinners, that are struggling to make ends meet are also less likely to have the time or tools to help their children learn from home. Low-income parents, especially Black and Latinx parents, were already overburdened by child care costs prior to the pandemic, and will find it even more difficult to find care as the child care industry struggles to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has left even more low-income Nebraskans struggling to afford rent and without the ability to shelter in place. Black and Latinx Nebraskans are already overburdened by rent bills, and evictions have continued in the state during a time of unprecedented unemployment. Without intervention that directly addresses our nation’s history of displacement, exclusion, and segregation in property ownership and generational wealth, the crisis promises to force steps backwards for Black and Latinx homeownership. Over 86,300 Nebraska families that rent their homes have experienced job or income losses, totaling an estimated $75 million in rent shortfalls per month statewide. While some federal and state housing relief has been made available, it will be nowhere near enough to ensure that struggling families can remain in their homes during this crisis. In the month of June alone, 333 Nebraska families were facing eviction across 12 counties hardest-hit by COVID-19.
A Path to Recovery for Every Nebraskan
Our collective path to recovery must center the experiences of families most impacted by the crisis, and our solutions must be community driven. When we support the well-being of every child, we support social and civic participation in the next generation of Nebraskans that will lead our state to a better future for all. We cannot afford to return to a normal where parents could not afford to keep their children safe and healthy. Nebraskans want a future where workers have safe and stable jobs, where families can access quality health care, parents can keep food on the table, and where children have a safe place to call home. Nebraskans want a future where every Nebraskan has a fair share in our state’s prosperity.