Excerpted From: Shauhin A. Talesh, Racial Inequality, Covid-19, and Health and Unemployment Insurance: Lessons Learned and Pathways Forward, 71 DePaul Law Review 635 (Spring, 2022) (309 Footnotes) (Full Document)

ShauhinTaleshCOVID-19 impacted the entire world, and the United States is no exception. In addition to pervasive death and illness, COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy. Many people in the United States lost their jobs, others worked remotely, and many essential workers continued working in their workplace settings at great risk to themselves. The public health and economic impacts-- particularly in employment--have been devastating. But the impact of this global pandemic has not been spread out evenly. This pandemic highlights how little progress we have made in remedying racial and economic inequality in the United States, as low-paid essential workers risk their lives daily to provide more affluent at-home workers their supplies and needs. Structural racism and racial inequality across critical institutions such as health, employment, and education caused Black and Brown communities to especially suffer. Black Americans contracted COVID-19 at significantly higher rates than white Americans. Moreover, Latinx, Black Americans, and Indigenous people are more likely to die of COVID-19 than white and Asian people. Structural and employment inequity, racism, and disparate experiences in the social determinants of health, such as safe housing, access to healthy food, and environmental factors, lead Black and Brown persons to be more at risk in times of public health or economic crises. Moreover, racial minorities shouldered the burden of continuing to work--at great risk to their health--as essential workers. What happened during the pandemic cannot be viewed in a vacuum: COVID-19 amplified existing inequalities in society and racial minorities have suffered at disproportionate levels. Our health and employment systems failed because these systems are rooted in longstanding inequality.

Consistent with the Clifford Symposium's charge to assess the justice system in a post-COVID-19 world, this Article articulates the lessons learned and pathways forward concerning racial inequality and health and employment. In particular, rather than focus on how to address the current pandemic, I focus my analysis on health and unemployment insurance (UI), two key structural resources that are supposed to assist individuals during periods of crisis but generally did not provide enough equitable support and relief during COVID-19. I evaluate the legal responses by the government--particularly concerning the first year of the pandemic--and reveal how such responses largely reproduce existing inequalities because they ignore the structural and institutionalized racism embedded over time in our health and employment systems. Moreover, I also offer suggestions for how to improve the structures in society to reduce inequality across racial and economic lines.

Part I of this Article examines how institutional and structural racism and discrimination have increased inequality in health and employment, and the accompanying health and unemployment insurance systems. It also explores how the COVID-19 pandemic amplified racial inequity in health and employment. Part II examines how the U.S. government responded to COVID-19 with various legislation aimed at supporting our health and unemployment insurance systems and how these responses largely reproduced inequality. Part III offers some structural recommendations for how to reform our health and unemployment systems to lessen racial inequality in society moving forward. To be clear, the suggestions offered in this Article are not a panacea. Rather, I offer recommendations for how government and private industry can engage in more systemic and holistic reform that addresses many of the structures that reproduce racial inequality.

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COVID-19 and the pandemic that followed have had devastating effects in the United States. But the impact for communities of color in the United States is especially harsh. Institutional and structural racism has pervaded our society for generations, and the COVID-19 pandemic placed a spotlight on the gaps in our current employment structure, unemployment, and health insurance systems. While legislation was passed to offer relief to people living in the United States, broader and more sweeping changes must be done to eradicate these disparities. In order to achieve greater racial health equity and more equal employment opportunities, public health officials, the government, and private industries must address structural and institutionalized racism and economic inequality. In addition to highlighting why and how legal responses by the government largely reproduced and amplified existing racial inequality, I have tried to offer tangible structural solutions to increase the likelihood that racial and ethnic minorities can achieve health and economic equality and not face additional barriers. Legal and political institutions need to be mobilized in ways to solve this problem, not reproduce it.

Professor of Law, and by courtesy, Professor of Sociology and Criminology, Law & Society, University of California, Irvine.