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If reparations for the descendants of slaves had been made before the pandemic, transmissions of the virus could have been significantly reduced not only for Black Americans, but across racial groups, suggests a new study co-authored by William A. Darity, Jr.

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“We demonstrate that had a program of reparations for black American descendants of US slavery been enacted prior to the pandemic—had the nation already closed the racial wealth gap—infection rates and mortality would have been dramatically lower not only for black Americans but for all Americans,” Darity said. 

The study appears in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on racial minorities. Black Americans have infection rates one and one-half times higher than whites and are three times more likely to die according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“The potential health impacts of racial-justice interventions are rarely explored,” the study authors write.

The researchers based their analysis on a close examination of the state of Louisiana, which has high rates of income inequality. They compared infection rate data from Louisiana with data from South Korea, a society is that relatively egalitarian, during the first two months of the pandemic.

Reparation payments could narrow the racial wealth gap, and narrow disparities in access to health care, housing and employment, the study found.

Reparations would have lowered the presence of pre-existing conditions that exacerbate black vulnerability to COVID 19. Reparations would have reduced transmission of the virus among Black people by decreasing overcrowded housing, the authors write. Finally, Black Americans would not be forced to work as frequently as high-risk frontline workers, a factor compounding the spread of the disease by overcrowding. The resulting COVID transmission rates would have been 31 to 68 percent lower for all Louisianans, the authors state.

Darity, Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, conducted the research together with colleagues from Harvard Medical School, the Lancet Commission of Reparations and Redistributive Justice, and others. 


CITATION: “Reparations for American Descendants of Persons Enslaved in the U.S. and their Potential Impact on SARS-CoV-2 Transmission,” Eugene T. Richardson, Momin M. Malik, William A. Darity, A. Kirsten Mullen, Michelle E. Morse, Maya Malik, Aletha Maybank, Mary T. Bassett, Paul E. Farmer, Lee Worden, James Holland Jones. February 9, 2021, Social Science & Medicine, 113741