A new book explores why COVID-19 deaths disproportionately affected non-white Americans.

Mortality rose across all demographics during first few years of the pandemic, but COVID-19 hit non-white Americans the hardest.

According to the US Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, the largest increase in mortality in 2020 was among the American Indian and Native Alaskan populations, which saw an increase of 36.7%.

The increase in mortality was 29.7% among Black Americans and 29.4% among Asian Americans. For comparison, the increase in mortality among white Americans was less than 20%.

Melvin Thomas, a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, is the author and co-editor of the new book Race, Ethnicity and the COVID-19 Pandemic (University of Cincinnati Press, 2023).

Here, he talks about the role that racial inequality played—and continues to play—in shaping health outcomes in the United States.

Q. The term “racial inequality” covers a lot of ground. Which aspects of racial inequality in the United States are most relevant in the context of COVID-19? For example, are we talking about differences in health outcomes? Or are we talking about how inequality in other aspects of society contributed to those different outcomes?

To understand the racial disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths, we must understand the extent to which they are linked to racial inequalities more broadly.

Persisting racial inequality in terms of income, occupational attainment, employment, and most other measures of socioeconomic well-being reveal the continuing impact of ongoing discrimination on Black, Latino/a, Asian, and Indigenous communities. Thus, racial and ethnic groups in the United States vary in vulnerability to COVID-19.

Read the full article about COVID-19 mortality rates for non-white Americans by Matt Shipman at Futurity.