“We assemble and march because for far too long, poor people, people of color, Indigenous nations and immigrant families, women, children, the disabled, LGBTQ communities have been under attack and pitted against each other,” said Alvin O’Neal Jackson, executive director of Mass Poor People’s Assembly and Moral March on Washington. (Courtesy of the Poor People’s Campaign)
Eight counties in New Mexico are listed in a recent report as having the highest rates of poverty and COVID-19 deaths in the entire United States, a dire statistic as the report concludes that across the country people living in poorer counties have died at nearly two times the rate of people who lived in richer areas.
McKinley, Cibola, Harding, Sierra, Quay, Colfax, Socorro, and Roosevelt counties are listed in the report released by a team of economists, researchers and experts as part of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival.
“This report shows clearly that COVID-19 became a ‘poor people’s pandemic,’” said Liz Theoharis, national co-chair of the Campaign.
The report compares more than 3,200 counties looking at COVID-19 deaths, income, race, health insurance status and more. The New Mexico counties are all ranked within the top 300 in the nation, McKinley (22), Cibola (66), Harding (77) and Sierra (79) making the top 100.
While the actual number of deaths in these New Mexico counties is relatively low, the fact that they are so sparsely populated results in extremely high rates of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, called a per capita rate. That rate allows for meaningful comparisons across places with large variations in population.
McKinley County in northwestern New Mexico ranks 22 of the top 300 counties listed in the database upon which the report is based. It has so far seen 561 people die of COVID-19, a per capita death rate of 786, more than 3.5 times the national rate.
Poorer counties also had uninsured rates twice as high as those with the highest median income, researchers found.
“Poverty was not tangential to the pandemic, but deeply embedded in its geography,” the researchers wrote. “Yet, failing to consider how poverty intersected with race, gender, ability, insured status and occupation during the pandemic created blind spots in our policy and decision-making, which wrought unnecessary suffering to millions of people.”
For example, in March the federal government stopped helping uninsured people cover the cost of COVID-19 testing and treatment.
More than 61% of McKinley County residents live below 200% of the federal poverty line, the report found. Nearly three-quarters of people in the county are Native American, while Latino and white people make up 14% and 8.6% of the population, respectively.
The report is meant to address a lack of 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 news release.
The report points out “glaring omissions” in collecting and reporting data on poverty, income, and occupation as they relate to COVID-19.
“Income and wealth information is not systematically collected for people who have died or fallen ill from COVID-19 in the U.S., therefore, there is no systematic way to know the poverty status of those who died,” the report states. This leaves us without clear drivers of or solutions to the pandemic, the researchers wrote.
The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is a campaign spanning 40 states to address the interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, denial of health care, militarism, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism.
Shailly Gupta Barnes, policy director for the Campaign, said overall, the poorest counties have grieved nearly two times the losses of wealthiest counties.
During the deadliest waves of the pandemic in the winter of 2020 to 2021 and the omicron wave, Barnes said, death rates were four-and-a-half and three times as high in the poorest counties, respectively.
“This cannot be explained by vaccination status,” Barnes said. “Over half of the population in these counties have received their second vaccine shot, but uninsured rates are twice as high.”
The counties with the highest death rates had one-and-a-half times higher poverty rates than counties with lower death rates, the report states.
New Mexico counties among the highest COVID-19 mortality and poverty rates in the U.S.:
#22 out of 300: McKinley
Cumulative deaths: 561
Death rate: 786 per 100,000 people
Median income: $33,834
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 61.11%
Cumulative deaths: 175
Death rate: 656 per 100,000 people
Median income: $39,413
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 55.13%
Cumulative deaths: 4
Death rate: 640 per 100,000 people
Median income: $29,375
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 51.02%
Cumulative deaths: 69
Death rate: 639 per 100,000 people
Median income: $29,755
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 54.28%
Cumulative deaths: 47
Death rate: 569 per 100,000 people
Median income: $29,035
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 56.76%
Cumulative deaths: 63
Death rate: 528 per 100,000 people
Median income: $36,302
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 46.21%
Cumulative deaths: 83
Death rate: 499 per 100,000 people
Median income: $42,083
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 51.03%
Cumulative deaths: 91
Death rate: 492 per 100,000 people
Median income: $42,702
Percentage of people living below the 200% poverty line: 49.43%
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