New Survey Shows Many Don’t See Racism as a Barrier to Good Health

Despite the uneven effects of a global pandemic on communities of color and those with lower incomes, many people do not recognize the fact that racism and health are connected, according to new survey results released last week from the nonprofit RAND Corporation with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And perceptions have not changed during this pandemic despite the toll it’s taken on so many lives.

The ongoing poll, which is surveying people with lower and middle incomes with a focus on communities of color, is looking at how COVID-19 is affecting health, optimism for the future, and the views, values, and experiences of those who are most affected by this crisis.

“It really struck us that—despite the virus’s spread across the country to all types of communities—there’s not a consensus view on the effects of systemic racism. Respondents see the impact of low incomes and living in a rural community on a person’s health, but race isn’t viewed with the same gravity,” said Katherine Grace Carman, senior economist at RAND Corporation and the lead author of the report. “Our leaders need to understand that we have a lot more work to do to educate people about the root causes of inequities and then enact policies to ensure better health for all.”

But more than two-thirds of respondents believe the pandemic presents a moment for positive change. Respondents who see this as an opportunity think society should prioritize expanding access to health care and reducing income inequality.

“We share the respondents’ demand for better access to health care and also advocate for policies that can help from an economic point of view, such as safe and affordable housing, access to healthy food, and access to jobs that pay a living wage,” said Brian Quinn, associate vice president of the Research-Evaluation-Learning unit at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Research like this is so important because we need to hear firsthand from the people and places most impacted so we can advance policy solutions that increase opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible.”

This is the second of four waves of findings. The next set of results is due out in spring 2021.

Key Findings include:

•Many people—even those who may have been hit hardest by the pandemic and long-standing inequities—still do not see systemic racism as a barrier to good health. Less than half (42.2%) of respondents believe that systemic racism is one of the main reasons people of color have poorer health outcomes, about one-third (32.9%) disagree with this notion, and nearly 1 in 4 (24.5%) are neutral. Black respondents are much more likely (69.4%) than white respondents (33.2%) to believe that systemic racism affects the health of people of color.

•Respondents’ willingness to risk their own health to return to “normal” has actually gone up slightly over time. But Black and Hispanic respondents are more likely (68.5%) to have more cautious views around taking health risks to move about freely compared to white respondents (53.4%).

•More than 70 percent of respondents see the pandemic as a moment for positive change. Black and Hispanic respondents are slightly more likely (72.5%) than white respondents (69.3%) to believe that the pandemic is a moment for positive change.

•Respondents who see an opportunity for positive change believe society should prioritize expanding access to health care and reducing income inequality.

•Nearly two-thirds of respondents believe the government should ensure health care as a fundamental right. White respondents are less likely (60.4%) than all other races/ethnicities (74.1%) to endorse this statement.

•One place where Black and Hispanic respondents diverge is trust in government. Black respondents report lower trust in government (68% report little or no trust) than white (52.4%) and Hispanic (53.6%) respondents.

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