Report shows several Arizona counties with high poverty and COVID death rates

By: - April 5, 2022 2:36 pm
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Six Arizona counties ended up as part of a report that showcased the top 300 counties nationwide with high poverty and COVID-19 death rates, with Apache County landing at No. 17.

The counties were included in a report by the Poor People’s Campaign, which advocates for public policies aimed at helping economically disadvantaged communities — particularly those of color. The report connects COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. to both poverty and race, according to a press release.

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“The COVID-19 disparities among counties across the US are striking,” Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, national co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement. “This report shows clearly that COVID-19 became a poor people’s pandemic.” 

Part of the report’s key findings includes how people living in poorer counties died at nearly two times the rate of people who lived in richer counties during the pandemic. 

This was determined by grouping counties based on their median household income into ten groups with equal population size, the report says. Doing so revealed that death rates in the highest income group are half what the death rates are in the lowest income group.

In Arizona, Apache County had the highest poverty and COVID-19 death rate, with 801 deaths per 100,000 people. (There were 576 deaths in the rural county in northeastern Arizona)

Some 60% of people in Apache County make less than 200% of the federal poverty limit. For a family of four, that means the household earns less than $55,500 a year. More than 70% of the county’s population is made up of Native Americans.

The other counties in Arizona included in the report are Gila, La Paz, Mohave, Navajo and Yuma.

The report’s findings include over 3,000 counties and shares data on COVID-19 deaths, income, race and other characteristics. 

“Income and wealth information are not systematically collected for people who have died or fallen ill from COVID-19 in the US,” the report stated. “There is currently no systematic way to know the poverty status of those who died from the virus.”

“Despite this data gap, various efforts have been made at the national, state, and county level to estimate the effects of COVID-19 on people living in poverty,” according to the report. “Research at the county level shows that rural poor counties experienced the highest cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents from September 2020 to January 2022.”

The poorest counties in America are home to nearly 27% of all Indigenous people, 15% of all Black people, 13% of all Hispanic people, 9% of all white people and 2% of all Asian people.

“Even in a global pandemic, there hasn’t been a systematic assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on poor and low-income communities,” Bishop William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement. “COVID-19 data collection does not include data on poverty, income, or occupation, alongside race and pandemic outcomes.”

The report was released on Monday by the Poor People’s Campaign in collaboration with the Kairos Center, Repairers of the Breach, Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Howard University.

“The Poor People’s Pandemic Digital Report and Intersectional Analysis addresses this knowledge gap and exposes the unnecessary deaths by mapping community characteristics and connecting them with COVID-19 outcomes,” Barber added.

A key finding from the report indicated that, during the deadliest phases of the pandemic, poorer counties saw many times more deaths than wealthier counties. 

“This analysis compares U.S. counties from the poorest 10% to the richest 10% and shows that, overall, the poorest counties have grieved nearly two times the losses of wealthiest counties,” Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a statement. “During the deadliest waves of the pandemic (winter 2020-2021 and Omicron) death rates were even higher — four and a half and three times as high —in the poorest counties.”

Additionally, the counties with the highest death rates had one and a half times higher poverty rates than counties with lower death rates.

“This pandemic report aims to shed light on the unequal burden of the pandemic, and to help point the way towards a fairer, healthier and more prosperous nation,” Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, president of SDSN, said in a statement.

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Shondiin Silversmith
Shondiin Silversmith

Shondiin Silversmith is an award-winning Native journalist based on the Navajo Nation. Silversmith has covered Indigenous communities for more than 10 years, and covers Arizona's 22 federally recognized sovereign tribal nations, as well as national and international Indigenous issues. Her digital, print and audio stories have been published by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic, Navajo Times, The GroundTruth Project and PRX's "The World." Silversmith earned her master's degree in journalism and mass communication in Boston before moving back to Arizona to continue reporting stories on Indigenous communities. She is a member of the Native American Journalist Association and has made it a priority in her career to advocate, pitch and develop stories surrounding Indigenous communities in the newsrooms she works in.

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