Study: COVID-19 has greater impact in communities with high income inequality

January 26, 2021
Keith A. Reynolds

A study of nearly all U.S. counties found that residents in areas with greater income inequality face higher COVID-19 infection and mortality rates.

Evidence continues to mount that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting communities with higher income inequality.

According to a study of all but one county in the U.S. during the first 200 days of the pandemic, there are positive associations between COVID-19 incidence and mortality rates with racial or ethnic composition and with income inequality. There is also a joint association of incidence and mortality with both factors.

The researchers found that a 1 percent increase in income inequality in a county corresponds to a 2 percent increase in risk of COVID-19 infection and a 3 percent increase in risk of mortality, this effect is compounded in racial and ethnic minority communities.

A news release on the study says that the lead author, Tim Liao, head of the sociology department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, began the study after noticing a lack of focus on the role of income inequality has played in the pandemic.

"We needed actual data to really fully understand the social dimensions of the pandemic," he says in the release. "We knew all along that racial inequality was important, but most of the time people were missing the more complete picture, which includes economic inequality."

The authors conclude that COVID-19 surveillance systems should account for county-level income inequality in order to give more light to the social patterning of incidence and mortality because income inequality may harm population health.

"Many studies have concluded that COVID-19 has revealed the fault lines of inequality in the United States," the authors wrote. "This study expands that picture by illustrating how county-level income inequality matters, in itself and through its interaction with racial/ethnic composition, to systematically disadvantage Black and Hispanic communities."