Why Are Blacks Getting COVID-19 At Higher Rates Than Whites?

I’m sure you haven’t missed the news that African Americans are being diagnosed with COVID-19 at much higher rates than whites. There are multiple competing explanations for this: blacks have a higher incidence of hypertension; blacks have more pre-existing conditions in general due to structural racism; and blacks tend to be poorer than whites.

I wanted to check out the last of these, but that’s difficult since people diagnosed with COVID-19 aren’t asked about their incomes. So I puttered around trying to think of some kind of crude test that might at least point in a direction: if you control for income, are blacks still diagnosed at higher rates than whites?

Eventually I hit on zip codes in New York City. What I did was look for mirror-image zip codes: zip codes with similar incomes but opposite numbers of blacks and whites. Would the majority black zip codes have a higher number of COVID-19 cases than majority white zip codes with the same average income? I came up with five pairs. Here’s the first:

The color represents the number of COVID-19 cases. Both of these zip codes have the same color, which means they are in the same range of cases even though one is 57 percent black and the other is 75 percent white. Here’s the second:

Same color again. Here’s the third:

Same color again. Here’s the fourth:

Same again. And here’s the fifth:

This time the black zip code has more COVID-19 cases than the white zip code.

Keep in mind that this proves nothing. It’s based on zip codes, not individual incomes. It’s based on a range of COVID-19 cases, not exact numbers. It’s only a sample size of five. Etc. However, it does seem to at least suggest that income may be the dominating factor in COVID-19 cases, not race. I don’t know if the data is even available to do a serious study of this, but it would be nice if someone could figure out a way to do it. Any takers?

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