Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Broad implementation of pandemic relief programs may help offset racial disparities

Long-term economic stimulus, tax break plans help address historical racism, socioeconomic injustice
Ahmad Hamid

Recent data from the Census’ American Community Survey reveals pandemic relief packages help to mitigate the impacts of poverty. By providing families with various forms of economic stimulus, the federal government prevented many from sinking into what could have been disastrous financial ruin. Contrary to what may have been expected during a pandemic, poverty rates were fairly steady from 2019 to 2021.

Despite the positive impacts of these kinds of programs, there are still stark racial disparities in socioeconomic status. 2021 data from the American Community Survey reveals that in Wisconsin, Black families are almost 3.5 times more likely than white families to be living below the poverty line.

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2019 data reveals similar patterns. Black families are more than three times more likely to be living below the poverty line than white families. This data reflects a long-term trend of poverty.


While the overall proportion of people living in poverty since 2010 has decreased, the disparities between whites and other racial groups have actually worsened. The durability of these racial discrepancies through the economic turmoil of a pandemic suggest there are more deeply rooted factors at play.

For Black people in particular, U.S. history has repeatedly proven to contribute to racial inequalities. Institutions like slavery and Jim Crow have long-term impacts on the generational poverty of Black Americans. Without understanding the full impacts of these systems, we can’t begin to assess the modern socioeconomic landscape.

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, historical racism directly influences the experience of Black Americans today. The report explains how Regina Baker, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist, developed the Historical Racial Regime, which is a way to measure the amalgamation of systems that reinforce racial inequality.

Using HRR data, plus data about poverty rates and disparities, Baker empirically demonstrated an association between historical racism and modern-day poverty rates. Baker said our understanding of modern poverty — and our efforts to mitigate it — must be rooted in a recognition of historical patterns of inequality.

Pandemic relief programs have a role to play in this. March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, which included various pandemic relief programs. One of these programs was the child tax credit, which allowed families to receive economic stimulus checks for each child up to age 17.

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Providing up to $3,600 for children under the age of six, the child tax credit helped reduce food insecurity by about 25% for low-income families, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The earned income tax credit is another relief program that allows people under a certain income threshold to receive tax breaks. According to the IRS, to qualify for the earned income tax credit, Americans must work and earn less than $57,414.

Again, these programs proved to help reduce poverty on the broad scale. According to a study from the University of Columbia, the American Rescue Plan reduced poverty in 2021 by about 12 million people. This is an incredibly positive impact that can’t be ignored.

So how can we ensure relief programs are successful in reducing racial disparities?

Due to its wide-reaching impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic brought attention to many social issues, such as poverty and racial injustice. As a result of this attention and growing economic hardships, legislation was implemented to support people during this time.

But a more complete understanding of poverty tells us people could have benefited from relief programs long before the pandemic.

While census data from 2019 shows poverty rates had been on the decline for years, pandemic conditions pushed many families into or back into, poverty. The fragility of poverty’s decline once the pandemic hit indicates our country’s lacks of infrastructure to maintain a reasonable standard of living in the face of adversity.

The pandemic contributed to the hardship of many Americans. But it also revealed the existing flaws in our system to effectively handle a public health crisis and the resulting economic impacts.

The implementation of COVID-19 relief programs indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the causes of poverty. The government only offered low-income families relief at the onset of a global shutdown. Reactionary measures like these imply an conception of poverty based on individual events.

But poverty is not the result of isolated incidents. According to Baker’s research, the conditions of individuals exist within the broader context of history and oppression. Racial disparities in poverty are no different and therefore should be viewed as an urgent crisis.

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The success of the pandemic relief programs is a promising finding in the search for more long-term solutions. According to findings from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, programs that focus on the distinct needs of marginalized racial groups have the potential to promote equity.

In order for relief programs to mitigate racial disparities, they have to be aggressively implemented in the long-term. As we look to the future, instead of focusing on the challenges brought on by the pandemic, relief programs can focus on the historical racism that persists today.

The failure to resolve socioeconomic disparities lies in the failure to understand the reality of the conditions of poverty. Taking into consideration the historical discrimination of marginalized groups reveals the need to implement race-based economic relief.

When we can recognize racism as a crisis, we can appropriately allocate resources toward alleviating centuries of injustice.

Celia Hiorns ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying journalism and political science.

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